Since the beautifully crafted debut album For Emma, Forever Ago of 2007, that was the product of frontman Justin Vernon’s isolation to a cabin in Wisconsin, Bon Iver has consistently produced inventive and atmospheric music, that can be instantly recognizable because of his hauntingly unique indie-folk vocals. 2016 brought the album ’22, A Million’, and with it a shift to the more obscure and at times experimental, whilst still maintaining the magical essence of Bon Iver in Vernon’s voice. In the opening track for example, ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’, the manipulated vocals of the ‘Queen of Gospel’, Mahalia Jackson, are sampled and intermingle with distorted vocals and electronic accompaniment, as the lyrics project: “It might be over soon”, that, despite making up the first song, seem strangely existential, and an insight into Vernon’s perspective.
This kind of electronic, synth element to Bon Iver’s latest album seems to evoke the same progression as in Radiohead’s album of 2000, ’Kid A’, that marked a turning point to their sound, and I cannot help hoping that this creative exploration will be followed by Bon Iver in the future.
The songs still vary in their manipulation, tracks such as ’33 “GOD”’ and “8 (circle)” could be bolder, more ethereal interpretations songs from the previous self-titled album, ‘Bon Iver’, whilst ‘715 – CR∑∑KS’ is entirely an experimentation in the creativity that autotune allows; interestingly, it adds a unique dimension to the vocals, rather than correcting them.
The artwork for the album is equally as interesting: the designer, Eric Timothy Carlson collaborated with Vernon as he recorded the album, and with each song title they created symbols for the album cover and numbers that reflected each song, after hearing them. As a result, the album is not only a collection of how Bon Iver’s music has evolved, but even visually, ’22, A Million’ is influenced by the creative input of such talent.
This is an album that is creatively crafted and exploratory, far flung from its predecessors but still intimately and uniquely, Bon Iver.