Justin Vernon’s third studio album with his band Bon Iver is as much a musical departure as it is an emotional one: if both their 2007 debut and their self-titled 2011 album documented the process of healing after loss, 22, A Million is about breaking free from the sadness, and the anxiety arising from dealing with those emotions on the world stage.
Thus, the 30-minute album feels like a bold statement in comparison – and not just because of its unpronounceable song titles. There’s bombastic arrangements of crackling, dense synth instrumentals, interspersed with string and wind instrument sounds (‘10 d E A T h b R E a s T ? ?’), acoustic guitar folk ballads (‘29 #Strafford APTS). There’s formless, almost ambient sketches (‘21 M??N WATER’), all belted by Vernon’s characteristic, polyphonic falsetto singing. The way in which Vernon plays with caesuras and heavy autotune effects on the a-capella ‘715 - CR??KS’ traces his recent collaborations with James Blake and Kanye West.
22, A Million translates Vernon’s unimaginable experiences into a unique sound – and shows how much it can pay off to dare indulging in slight madness.