in Review

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Speaking of the late ’00s/early ’10s era of indie rock that marked my college years, Bon Iver was a pretty inseparable product of that era, and for that reason I wasn’t sure whether I should care about a new Bon Iver record.  I guess it has to do with the fact that you could say Bon Iver was a pretty pivotal artist in the wimpification of indie rock that was no doubt started with Arcade Fire’s Funeral over a decade ago.  But, at this point, that seems kind of irrelevant, because what the hell even is indie rock right now?  It’s hard to say, but what isn’t terribly hard to say is that whether you like it or not, this a fairly bold and offbeat record that some people seem to like, and some people think is just too weird.  And I can see why this is, though the more I listen to it, the more I’ve found that beneath its weirdness, 22, A Million has all the warmth and sensitivity that made white people fall in love with Bon Iver in the first place.

I could tell immediately that this was going to be a fairly experimental record, since on first listen, my reaction to 22, A Million was, “Yeah… I’m not really hearing any songs here”.  Meaning there didn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to the mix of electronic percussion, manipulated vocals, and intermittent use of more of traditional instrumentation that permeates the record.  And I have to think on some level, that was Justin Vernon (aka Mr. Bon Iver)’s intention.  He appears to be a guy who’s uncomfortable with the level of fame and attention he’s gotten since Bon Iver’s 2011 album, and looking at the album’s nonsensical track-listing, there was an intentional bucking of expectations going on here that made it feel like he was just screwing with people.

Or maybe 22, A Million was Vernon’s way of weeding out the phonies in his audience.  Because Bon Iver does strike me as the kind of artist that your typical (I hate to use the phrase) hipster music fan is into, whether they actually like Bon Iver, or just feel obligated to say they like Bon Iver.  On that level, I think Vernon has succeeded in creating an album that will test people’s patience, but will reward those that are patient enough to stick with it, and see that there’s a weird beauty to this album.  I know I’ve talked about it before that music listeners nowadays seem less likely to really sit down and spend time with a challenging album, and this album’s embrace of that I’d say is more than welcome.  Which in the end has made it feel like quite the opposite of the “fuck you” it initially felt like.

Favorite Tracks: You know, the ones with the weird symbols in them.