Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, is a man who perfectly embodies the phrase ‘quality over quantity, his third release 22, A Million arriving just shy of a decade after his debut For Emma, Forever Ago. Given his very select guest appearances on tracks by both Kanye West and James Blake, it’s difficult to imagine Vernon heading in a different direction than he now has taken, especially given how well it works for him. To transition from the strictly acoustic For Emma, to the heavy sampling and lo-fi beats that appear throughout 22, A Million takes courage, but more importantly demonstrates the versatility and unfathomable ability of which Vernon is capable.
Whilst the album undeniably favours a more electronic angle than it’s predecessors, it’s hard to argue that Vernon’s style has changed – the essential elements of what makes Bon Iver, Bon Iver are more present than ever. The ambience, the horns, the ‘found sounds’ that feature on earlier tracks such as Perth and The Wolves all remain, and Vernon continues to be one of the few artists with an undeniably powerful falsetto that he handles with finesse.
Yet, Vernon also explores a less gentle side, evident in 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, over-compressed and ‘fuckified’, but perhaps most spectacularly in 715 – CR∑∑KS. The track partly plays out as if branched from the stem ‘Woods’, (featured on Bon Iver’s Blood Bank EP, released back in 2009, and later sampled on Lost in the World on Kanye’s MBDTF) but is more reminiscent of Imogen Heap’s touching Hide and Seek. In spite of their voices being processed through a Vocoder, there’s somehow something incredibly raw and natural about it.
22, A Million is at times bizarre (the final 45 seconds of 21 M◊◊N WATER wouldn’t be out of place had they appeared on OK Computer), innovative in its use of samples (33 “GOD”s use of Iron Sky by Paolo Nutini on par with Alt J’s sampling of Miley Cyrus in Hunger of the Pine) and is constantly interesting and beautiful.
Words: Connor Crabb