22, A MILLION BY BON IVER. AN ‘ALTERNATIVE’ EXPERIENCE. TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW.
What did 2016 sound like? Well, here is how it should have sounded for some of us music lovers who might have missed the gem I am about to present.
Frequently, I will go through recent releases that for irrelevant reasons, I might have missed. Although I often regret piling up works waiting for a listen, there is one regret I will no longer have to bear: not having discovered Bon Iver’s third LP effort three months earlier, when it came out of the closet to a world that accepts, understands and connects with musical originality better than we are used to.
Having charted at #2 on the Billboard 200, the record is a brilliant example of how great ‘alternative’ music can be commercially successful too. It also serves to prove that listeners want great music, and we don’t discriminate based on any other reasons.
22, A Million has produced three singles to date. However, very daring as always (notice the irony), I would argue it doesn’t have or need ‘single material’. As implied, the album is one of those art pieces where every part holds each together, and you would rather enjoy the synergic interactions displayed as a whole, an updated story, an individual.
Alright, alright, let’s cut to the chase!
22 (OVER S∞∞N)
It’s somehow strange to me that this track would be chosen as the lead single, although that matter has already been discussed. I must say it is not one of the most memorable on the record. Samples in the background become somewhat repetitive and gain undeserved dominance, and although the lack of conventional structure is probably one of the most interesting contributions to this collection of songs, it doesn’t work as well on this opening track as it does on subsequent ones. It simply sounds a bit incomplete. ‘And then I draw an ear on you, so I can speak into the silence’ stands out in the lyric department.
10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄
The craziest sonic odyssey on 22, A Million. It even adds one new word to slang dictionary: ‘f**kified’. Still, not so much for my taste, though some will enjoy it for sure.
715 - CR∑∑KS
We still haven’t got to the best part. And this is maybe the least appealing track on the album. But it certainly adds originality. Let’s move forward.
This is where things start to get more exciting. Again, another track that relies strongly on sampling, but it does in a smarter way than before. The changing dynamics, soothing synthesizers and dubbed vocals sound nocturnal. It sounds like a storm, and it recreates that image that one has when they remember the spark in a night of romance and look for a soundtrack to evoke the memory.
29 #Strafford APTS
Simply brilliant. And it is just the first one of a series of songs that make the second half of the album the most musical and stimulating. Soulful folk from the future. A distorted reality. Who would have thought smoking a cigarette could sound as good as ‘sharing smoke in the stair up off the hot car lot’? I mean, Bob Marley would have loved this song. The way conversation is built around the instrumental track feels somehow like Fleetwood Mac’s Sara.
My second favourite! Reminiscent of Yazoo’s keyboards at the start. Reverbing guitars; perfect harmonies that span across the stereo channel in a successful melodic effort; emotion-driven (or emotion-driving) percussion… What else can I say? ‘It’s not in your clasp. What’s the function of the task?’ Once more, the lyrics are the first thing that came to Vernon’s mind, which make them wonderfully direct. ‘I can admit to conceal. No, that's not how that's supposed to feel’.
21 M◊◊N WATER
This one truly does answer to its name. It sounds like a trip to the moon. An orchestra of astronauts play as the listener pictures themselves looking down on Earth from space. An interesting combination of sounds that, nevertheless, turns non-musical at moments.
A personal favourite. Nostalgic, raw and heart-punching. The opening line ‘philosophize your figure’ appeals to the listener, as if it knew how often the need of finding a sense to our existence disturbs us.
Also contribute that Stevie Nicks’ Gypsy feel of continuity and yearning, as well as those Sinead O’Connor wishfully paced snare drums and weeping synthesizers.
Playful brass, road-trip banjos and Gospel gospel choirs lace up an unprecedented combination of genres in 45. Lyrically repetitive, it looks like an intermission between 8 (circle) and the last act. Therefore, whilst it may not stand strong on its own, it certainly has found its right place as the 9th track.
Another highlight, this one might remind you of Simon & Garfunkel’s or The Eagles’ classic folk artistry. Probably the least ‘experimental’ tune all along, it may be winking an eye to the band’s earliest works.
By the way, I have said nothing about this beautiful collection of lyric videos and complement the listening experience. And, if you feel strongly about this album, feel free to check out For Emma, Forever Ago and self-titled Bon Iver, which came out in 2008 and 2011 respectively,