So Bon Iver a.k.a. Justin Vernon released a new album. And what an album it is.
Bon Iver’s third album, 22 a million, is certainly unexpected. I had written Justin Vernon off early on as just a folk singer with a little more relatability, an arguably idiotic perspective, and yet his newest album has made me rapidly reevaluate my assessment. Vernon gives a lot to his audience by letting us see his own personal growth. By giving us a front row seat to personal doubts and afflictions that the rest of us would have internalized and dealt with on our own. The growth and intimacy of his newest album is enough to knock your socks off. Listen close, for such quality of music is rare.
Entering into the world of 22, A Million is to follow a yellow brick road that begins, journeys, and ends at the cross-roads of meditation and self-reflection. As mentioned above, usually such reflection is a personal affair. We are fortunate in that Vernon has decided to let us into his process. And yet, while this is Vernon’s process, we may use it as well, to evaluate and consider our own relation to our self.
There is something to be said for an album that from moment one, makes you sit down, stop everything, and just listen. Few, if any, albums have such a consistent feel throughout that you never ask, “Well where did that come from?” Certainly that question will be asked while listening to this album, but instead of surprise it will be curiosity that begets the query. And that is not to say that all the songs sound the same, this is not a Mumford and Sons album, it’s that they all come from a similar place which is readily apparent to the listener.
No song in 22 stands out as a hit. And this is important, because no song desires more attention from you than any other. You start from the beginning and let it play. For me it was like Vernon was guiding me through his mind. Every so often he would pull out a slide, ask me to look at it and then inquire how it made me feel. Before I could answer he’d give me another, and another, and another. Each moment was totally separate and distinct, but by the end I had the semblance of a complete whole.
I recommend that you listen to the whole project in order the first time. Don’t shuffle. See what narrative you can find. Maybe listen through again, and then, if you like, switch the tracks around. This is an experiment that will almost assuredly give you intriguing results. The narrative here is not linear and like any self examination, it’s best to approach it from various perspectives.
Each song in the ten track long album is assigned a number which has a specific importance to Vernon. Some have a universal symbolism, i.e. 666, yet others are more truly his own. I can’t figure out what the hell some of them mean, but I suppose that’s a bit of the point. Lot’s of things to think about.
The religious undertones of the album are rich, and provide a unique personal spirituality that is unexpected. Vernon seems to enjoy using phrases like, “consecration” or “sixes on the door” or simply put; words with religious roots. What’s cool is that instead of bringing our reflection towards the religious, these phrases help us to begin to consider our self reflection in terms of the spiritual. Or instead, what is the point beyond the material, physical, or practical.
Other instances of guided reflection can be found like in the line, “What is left when unhungry?” Here is Vernon, a successful singer-songwriter asking, “What do you do when you’ve made it?” Most artists spend their whole careers hoping to become a household name, and most of all their efforts are directed towards that end. So what comes after? This is a good question for any artist to consider, and especially any member of this publication. When there is no purpose left to your art but to be an outlet for your creativity, when you have nothing to lose by creation, what do you make?
For Vernon, it was this album.
**Bon Iver’s third album, 22, a Million, was produced by Justin Vernon on the Jagjaguwar label and released on September 30, 2016.**