There’s a line low in Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice wherein Doc, a small-time stoner-sleuth, considers a retraction of a 1960s, wondering if a decade wasn’t merely “a small punctuation of light, competence tighten after all, and all be lost, taken behind into darkness.” It’s a humorous approach to consider about time—that an whole epoch can be nudged behind into a ether, erased. But on 22, A Million, a unusual third full-length from Bon Iver, Justin Vernon echoes Doc’s gloomy pondering. These are fluttery, fundamental songs that onslaught opposite famous trajectories and afterwards bluster to disappear entirely. 22, A Million competence be musically apart from For Emma, Forever Ago, a collection of painful folk tunes Vernon debuted in 2007—mostly left are a acoustic strums, transposed by lurching, electronic gasps innate from a Messina, a doctored multiple of a Prismizer program plug-in and some hardware that was invented by Vernon and his engineer, Chris Messina. But a albums share an ideology. All things go, taken behind into darkness.
22, A Million is positively Bon Iver’s many formidable record; it’s a work of a songwriter who seems to have mislaid seductiveness in established, simply deciphered forms, a probability Vernon has been hinting during for scarcely all of his career. In 2006, Vernon, afterwards vital in North Carolina, was emotionally razed by a ideal charge of shitty turns: his rope pennyless up, his attribute dissolved, he came down with an strident box of mononucleosis. He did what any reasonable chairman with an eye toward self-care would do: decamp to his family’s sport cabin in farming Wisconsin, splash a squad of beers, watch unconstrained hours of “Northern Exposure,” and write a collection of lonesome, romantic folk songs on his acoustic guitar. His high, crisp falsetto gave these pieces an illusory quality, as if they had blown in on a quite cold wind.
For Emma, Forever Ago was, in a possess way, an initial record—Vernon’s vocals and phrasing are deeply unusual; a stories are impressionistic, fractured—but given it’s so complicated with heartbreak and loss, it feels intimate, authentic, easy. 22, A Million is partially bizarre and exploratory, yet a worries are some-more existential. The manuscript opens with a high, undulating voice (Vernon, singing into an OP-1, a multiple synthesizer, sampler, and sequencer) announcing, “It competence be over soon,” and goes on to inspect a thought of impermanence. Nearly all of a songs enclose a doubt of some sort, as if Vernon’s possess tab with a karma of spoil has led him to survey each final thing he’s seen or known. Inasmuch as his lyrics are narrative—and they have always been some-more connotative than exegetic—he seems rapt with possibly or not a life has meaning. “Oh then, how we gonna cry? Cause it once competence not meant something?” he asks on “715 – CRΣΣKS.”
Kanye West once called Vernon his “favorite vital artist,” and has prolonged avowed a low and astonishing indebtedness for “Woods,” a shutting lane from 2009’s Blood Bank EP, and an apparent predecessor to “715 – CRΣΣKS,” itself a kind of mangled a capella jam. “Woods” featured no instrumentation, yet is merely 5 mins of Vernon singing by Auto-Tune, in resounding peace with himself. In retrospect, “Woods” feels like a revelation: it was not usually an astonishing confirmation of pop’s future—artists aggressively distorting their vocals, feeding their voices into machines in sequence to build spectral, whinging songs that simulate alienation, arguably a reigning prodigy of a time—but of Vernon’s possess trajectory.
Plenty of dear contemporary artists, from Dylan to Neil Young on, have ditched a ostensible virginity of folk strain to pull a work harder, to make art that’s reduction reliant on a tradition and invests, instead, in a strangeness of a benefaction impulse and common doubt about a future. Trading on preexisting pathways—it’s too easy. Vernon isn’t alone in his craving for true, tectonic innovation, for songs that seem tethered to and contemplative of their tangible time and place: Radiohead has been mirroring stress about a intrusion of wiring and practical vital given Kid A, a record that also compulsory them to diverge if not desert their beginnings as a guitar-rock band.
Beyond a sonic striving, 22, A Million is also a personal record about how to pierce brazen by disorienting times. Vernon spasmodic employs eremite denunciation to demonstrate his anxiety, some pithy (“consecration,” “confirmation”), some some-more seemingly vernacular (“So as I’m hire during a station,” “I could go brazen in a light”). He samples dual gospel tunes: Mahalia Jackson’s live chronicle of “How we Got Over,” from 1962, and a Supreme Jubilees’s “Standing in a Need of Prayer,” from 1980. There is a strain patrician “666 ʇ,” and another patrician “33 ‘GOD.’” A bit of marginalia in a album’s ship annals (“Why are we so FAR from saving me?”) is attributed to Psalm 22, yet in a King James Bible, that imploration is for help, not shelter (“Why art thou so distant from assisting me, and from a difference of my roaring?”). Either way, Psalm 22 opens in medias res: a author is undergoing an obligatory predicament of faith. So is Vernon?
Maybe. Musically, Vernon resists not usually verse-chorus-verse, yet all a ways in that Western cultures have come to conceptualize narrative. As kids, we’re taught how stories work, and we use that rubric to classify and make clarity of a events of a lives. But a deception of structure can be violent; perhaps, Vernon suggests, a thought that we are organizing events during all is seemingly nuts. So when he ventures a line like “We’ve galvanized a shout of it all,” from “8 (circle),” it feels like a goal statement. There is condolence in facing grave structures, in both acknowledging and embracing a certain volume of chaos.
It’s a same story on “00000 Million,” a album’s vivid shutting track, where Vernon samples a rootless line borrowed from a Irish folksinger Fionn Regan: “The days have no numbers.” Pitted opposite a record’s recurrent numerology—each strain has a series in a title—it lands like an acknowledgment of defeat. There’s abdication in his voice, that gives approach to desolation. The song’s lyrics will be informed to anyone wondering if they’ll ever indeed start to feel better, while still stability to do something they know is spiteful them: “If it’s harmed, it spoiled me, it’ll mistreat me, we let it in.”
For a while now, Vernon has been building songs in a modular way, and there are moments here (like a labyrinth final notation of “21 M♢♢N WATER”) where it feels as if he could’ve jiggled a pieces together a small more—where his renunciation of junction hankie feels reduction counsel than random. This is evident, in part, given he is unusually good during essay saddening laments in a rarely structured character of ’80s soft-rock giants like Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby (Vernon has lonesome Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and Vernon and Hornsby have collaborated on several occasions; “00000 Million” feels like it could have been available by either).
“8 (circle)” is a many immediately suggestive of Vernon’s final record, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, itself now tangible as a transparent median between Emma and here; it’s also a album’s many conventionally stoical track, with a smallest volume of outspoken manipulation. Elsewhere, Vernon’s vocals are filtered until they start to indeed dissolve, as if they have been dunked in a cylinder of lye. The song’s overwhelming romantic peaks—I come to a full stop each time we hear Vernon sing, “I’m hire in a travel now, and we lift his guitar,” his voice solid and deep, as if he’s announcing himself to someone he loves—are so seemingly pleasing it’s tough not to mourn, briefly, for a Bon Iver of yesteryear.
But 22, A Million sounds usually like itself. There are precedents for all of Vernon’s moves low in a histories of rock‘n’roll and stroke and blues and electronic music—and, some-more immediately, on newer annals by West, Frank Ocean, James Blake, Chance a Rapper, Francis and a Lights, and Radiohead. But this sold alliance is so twitchy and particular it feels truly singular. Its acid is bottomless.