KUMD Album Review: Bon Iver

Nov 16, 2016

Bon Iver | 22, A Million

Kanye West once said that Justin Vernon, also known as, Bon Iver, was his favorite living artist. 22, A Million, Vernon’s newest album has many saying the same.

Beautiful, willful and something of a triumph, 22, A Million moves listeners, though they may struggle to explain why or how. The first listen leaves them wondering. The second — wanting. And the third — crying tears of both sorrow and joy.

The name Bon Iver is derived from the French phrase, “Bon Hiver", meaning, "Good Winter”. This phrase describes the American Indie Folk Band well.

Justin Vernon, singer and songwriter, is joined by Sean Carey (drums, vocals, piano), Michael Noyce (guitar, vocals, violin) and Matthew McCaughan (bass, vocals, drums).

Bon Iver released their debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007. The majority of that album was recorded in a cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin, over a period of three months. It was an instant hit.

In 2011, Bon Iver released their second album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Again, it was an instant hit.

In 2012, the group won “Best New Artist” and Best “Alternative Music Album” at The Grammy Awards.

With fame, came both trial and triumph — ultimately resulting in a five year break from music. During this time, Vernon relaxed, refueled and re-centered — seeking help for his anxiety and depression.

The album was well worth the wait.

22, A Million reflects some of the struggles that Vernon faced during his time away. The opening track “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” touches on his fear of mortality, for example. In the song, Vernon soulfully sings: “It might be over soon.” This piece, however, allows him to live forever. It is truly timeless. Perhaps the infinity sign in the title of the song itself reflects this idea.

As for the make-up of rest of the songs; the guitar, which was central to Bon Iver’s early releases, is largely minimized in favor of percussion, electronic effects and saxophone. In addition to this, the lyrics, which were also central to Bon Iver’s early releases, differ in their sense of style and execution.

While some use technology as a source of correction, Vernon uses it as a source of projection. Though different, these modern components come together to create an elegant, eminent and ethereal final product.

The album closes with “00000 Million,” featuring mainly vocals and soft piano. In this song, Vernon sings, “I worry about shame, and I worry bout a worn path/And I wander off, just to come back home.” These lyrics reflect the band’s journey. It is both a touching conclusion and a triumphant return.