Review: 22, A Million

PSA: The new Bon Iver album is out! This is a big deal in my circles because I’m from the same town as Justin Vernon, the guy writing under the Bon Iver nom de plume. (We have mutual friends and had some classes together, but we were hardly “friends”, so this fact doesn’t make me very cool.)

This is the same album Bon Iver premiered at the Eaux Claires festival back in August, and the full album was released today.

I think Vernon made some brave choices on this record. Extended sax techniques on a pop record? Yes. The style is definitely is a departure from For Emma, but the songwriting and vocal stylings are similar. I’m glad he didn’t feel pressured to stick to one formula, and that he no longer has to start an entirely new project just to experiment with his sound.

Unpopular opinion time: While I love most of the digital effects, the harmonizer is just not doing it for me. I get that it’s a nod to the post-production layered vocals and auto-tune that made him famous, but it’s too much. (Also “too much”? Those titles.)

I also think that he tried too hard for an arena sing-along in “22 (Over S∞∞n)” and “00000 Million”. Somehow they’re a far cry from “Skinny Love” and “Holocene”. He would have done better by not pandering to his audience. Having said that, though, “22 (Over S∞∞n)” has gotten stuck in my head more than once.

My favorite on the album is “666 ʇ”, where he and the band get everything right – the reverb-heavy guitar, light electronics, juicy bassline, buildup driven by the drums, etc.

Overall, this one is growing on me, but I don’t think it will be my go-to listen. What I do love about this album is that it will likely have ripple effects of inspiration throughout the industry, in the same way that For Emma and “Woods” (off Blood Bank) led to some real shifts in the pop music world (amid the many second-rate copycats).