Intimate and vulnerable: Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”
When indie-folk band Bon Iver arrived on the music scene in 2007 with the release of “For Emma, Forever Ago,” critics latched to the melancholic vocals. Led by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, the track “Skinny Love” gained popularity and critical attention, cementing Bon Iver’s legacy in a single album. “For Emma, Forever Ago” was followed by the self-titled “Bon Iver,” released in 2011. Another five years later, Bon Iver has returned.
In the opening track on the newly released album “22, A Million,” a high pitched electronic voice states, “it might be over soon.” The first track, “OVER S∞∞N,” includes a sample of Mahalia Johnson’s “How I Got Over,” amidst Vernon’s haunting vocals. Then, abruptly, the second track, “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄,” is noisy and full of raging unrest. Even from the first two tracks, it is clear that “22, A Million” is a whole new work of art, departing from the band’s softer, quieter roots. Nevertheless, the rawness associated with Bon Iver is still there, perhaps with a more full force than ever before.
Even with a stylistic and musical break, Vernon still conveys a sense of intimacy and vulnerability in his vocals. They are soulful, pensive and, at times, full of adulation. His lyrics are ambiguous and challenging, immersing the listener into a complex range of emotion. “29 #Strafford APTS” evokes a love comparable to religion: “a womb, an empty robe” and, repeated over twice, “canonize.” The track following it, “666 ʇ,” ponders the “path” to take, pleading for “the need of prayer.” Littered around these tracks is the feeling of loss, a longing to be whole, to know and understand something, anything. Similarly pleading, “____45_____” asks “what the truth is.” Its beginning is filled with more electronic sounds yet, toward the end, it becomes simply tranquil.
There is an evasiveness to “22, A Million.” It is not a stark album placed in a remote wilderness, preaching isolation and contemplation like “Emma.” It is not full of yearning in tunes that evoke lullabies. Fundamentally, “22, A Million” is a pondering of emotion and understanding. Vernon sings of love, religion, loss, confusion, anger, pain, despair. There are no clear answers, nor does he seek to provide them. Rather, as he states in the closing track, “If it's harmed, it's harmed me, it'll harm, I let it in.” The true sublimity is not in knowing but rather embracing acceptance and waiting for peace to follow.
Perhaps waiting is the best answer we can be provided. Hurt and sadness will happen and love, religion, family - none of it will spare that pain, some may even cause it; however, “the days have no numbers” and when the long days are over, all we are left with is ourselves. And somehow, that must be enough.
Outstanding Tracks: OVER S∞∞N, 715 - CR∑∑KS, 33 “GOD,” 29 #Strafford APTS, 00000 Million
Naomi Zeigler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Editorial Page Editor for The Eagle.