Review: Bon Iver’s ’22, A Million’

Vernon’s newest album will be released Sept. 30 after premiering at Eaux Claires.

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver performs at the Eaux Claires music festival on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver performs at the Eaux Claires music festival on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

by Gunthar Reising

Melancholy, nostalgia, instrumentals — these are things we typically associate with Bon Iver.

“22, A Million,” however, disregards all expectations, breaching new sonic experiences. But not to worry, “Skinny Love” fans, frontman Justin Vernon’s irresistible human imperfections are still clear.

In fact, the record has done the only thing that Justin Vernon has ever been able to do — build an irresistible world for solitary, soul interrogating meditation. The album is a kind of triumphant resignation that makes the sometimes-caustic vocals worth it.

The album opens with “22 (OVER S??N),” easing the listener into Vernon’s new sound. The opening line, “It might be over soon,” puts the entire album into context. Never one to make analyzation simple, Vernon’s supplied context remains enigmatic.

From “22 (OVER S??N)” arrives “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ? ?,” punching the listener with its rolling drum line. According to Vernon, this is the song that inspired the album; it’s clear where Vernon’s head was at its conception.

When asked about the departure from his usual wistful sound, Vernon put it simply.

“Yelling just sounded right,” he said.

From this discord breaks “715 – CR??KS,” which is a relief from the sonic white noise of the first two songs. Next follows “33 ‘GOD’” with an amiable piano entrance; the song also touches on the new record’s relationship to location. Geography has become a token of Vernon’s music, either as an environment of healing (“For Emma, Forever Ago”) or as muse (“Bon Iver, Bon Iver”).

In “33 ‘God’,” Vernon puts the album on pause to step outside of its narration and say, “These will just be places to me now,” in what might be the most definitive and straightforward line of the record.

The rest of the album unveils itself as a logical mix of soulful gospel choir and tangy folk — in front of an interstellar backdrop.

“29 #Strafford APTS,” the fifth song on the

album, opens with a folk acoustic melody that seems almost sardonic, as if Vernon is looking back on his “For Emma” days with a tinge of embarrassment.

“666 ?” is the friendliest yet — with a Led Zeppelin, nymph-like quality, followed by “21 M??N WATER,” which has the interstellar feel of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and convoluted, philosophical ruminations like “The math ahead, the math behind.”

The album then reaches further into gospel choir and poetics, with “8 (Circle)” revealing Vernon’s vocals free of auto-tune. Earthiness endures.

In “____45_____” and “00000 Million,” it’s hard not to remember that Vernon and Kanye West often collaborate. The last two numbers feel like the minimalist gospel choir of “The Life of Pablo” met Henry David Thoreau.

The album is not easily accessible and it asks for effort on behalf of the listener. But this is Justin Vernon, whose trademark is his vulnerable search for identity. “22, A Million” is just another incomplete effort in this endeavor.