In another genre where the narrative of creation is often entangled with the creation itself, Bon Iver's journey from the woods of heartbreak to darling of critics' lists and festival crowds the world over isn't as much unique as it is inspirationally archetypal. To have the very intimate feelings that fueled For Emma, Forever Ago resonate and bloom across the world, and to follow it up with the even more successful self-titled... he was living not just his own dream, but likely the dreams of many of his listeners. It's why people are so aggressively polarized on this latest outing - I've seen people deride it as just bleep-bloops, blame it on him "hanging out with Kanye West too much", and even urgently pray for the souls of those who hear its Satanic message.
But for me, someone who's indie rock preference has tended towards bombast and experimentation over hymnal charm, these criticisms piqued my interest. You know you're in for a treat when even the haters make you want to hear it - a very Kanye attitude to take, I think. And the "too much Kanye" complaint is more apt than you might think: Justin recently told a story of how Kanye made him rethink the concept of humbleness. And the result is a record that seems like it'll be very egotistical - not in a braggadocios way, but in a way that honors and validates the feelings of the creator. In the way that William Blake was egotistical: willing to elevate one's own visions and patterns into a schema that could encapsulate all of humanity, all of cosmology, all of reality...
Blake is just another artist that I find myself compelled to synthesize with Bon Iver as I study the three released tracks. I praised them at some length recently, trying to explain them as a hybrid of many genres, casting them through my memories, trying to find meaning, failing, and finding the failing compelling. I ranted on and on about how convinced I was that it'd be the next p4k 10, prophecies of divine numerology lol. I couldn't say enough. This is a uniquely exciting album release for me, and, as someone who spends a lot of their time getting excited for album releases, that's saying a lot. And here it is, so...
Bon Iver - 22, A Million
1. 22 (OVER S∞∞N)
okay this one was a single, I heard it prolly a hundred times in the last month or so (unsure if this is an exaggeration). It's so calming, and yet so stirring... I'm sure we've all (or maybe just huge nerds like me) seen articles explaining the numerological connections of the album... 22 is Justin himself, and thus the "over soon" could be like... the end of himself? or the end of the awful anxious feelings going through him? either way it seems like the same feeling, which is strange. but damn... the way it blooms a bit at 1:25, with the guitar, jfc, fantastic, and the delicate piano, and then THE SAXOPHONE, every single time I notice it and love it... so forelorn... but man... putting infinity signs in the word "soon"... is that just objectively... bleak? inspiring? i have no idea... and the brief sample from the million man march performance, god damn man, god damn right. WOAH wait this is different than the single there's no outro woah. ***
2. 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄
bold emoji lol. This sounds... quieter than the single, maybe? it's shorter too, I think. The word "fever" is so... it feels feverish itself... and the vocal effects, the Kanye influence??? LOL. but at a minute there, when it breaks a bit, anticipating the full strung-outedness 10 seconds later, that sort of structure can't be taught, that's doing what your bones want to do. oh man yeah this is massively truncated from what i can tell, ahhh and the more dynamic saxophone, the "angry version" of the sax in the previous song, omfg, if he can keep that sort of motif development through the whole thing. AND I CANNOT SEEM TO FIND I'M ABLE, oh wow that's where it ends now **
3. 715 - CR∑∑KS
lmfao yeah this is just straight up kanye's runaway p4k 10 confirmed ahahaha. creek a familiar bonny bear location i'd expect. wow though... these vocal effects are so well done... that mixture of familiarity and icy disconnect... it really does feel sort of hymnal, but like... the version sung out in the night in despair solo. omg the way it's kinda running into itself here, how. "for once it might not mean something" wow man, again. "All I'm trying to do is get my feet up from the creek", "God damn turn around now you mighty"... wow... **
4. 33 “GOD”
ahhh yes. my song of the year so far. wait, is that true? wow, maybe yeah. couldn't cut this one, the 3:33 tracklength too divine. to me this song is obviously about a crisis where he stops believing in god but the fact that people have been suggesting other things is exciting too. the plurality of voices, the plurality of meaning. there's so many good parts in this song wtf how, at 1:10 my heart ALWAYS stops, and when the beat comes back in... and then at 1:44, when you can just hear a bit of the banjo wandering through, and the drums get louder, that was the moment when i knew for sure: p4k 10 aotyay LOL. and then this ts eliotesque slice of life interlude thing, and how it rushes so assuredly from here to the finale, I COULD GO FORWARD IN THE LIGHT, well i better fold my clothes man that says it all right there, that's... that's what life is like, hahaha. i can say that because i'm 25 years old which no one would say isn't an adult anymore. "All my goodness to show"/"Why are you so far from saving me", holy holy ****
5. 29 #Strafford APTS
woah what? did we just go back 6 years? this is what he used to sound like, right? this is what he used to sing about? were the first 4 tracks just a fakeout? did all computers explode in the finale of the last one? okay this is really beautiful tho, makes me want to listen to his old stuff more hahaha. and there's some effects on his voice, ahhh yes, this sort of autotune harmonic widening, and i heard the saxophone too... omg... what if like... the new sort of sound starts to "infect" this traditional beginning... i can sort of hear it worming in, mutating it, on a molecular level... like those sounds at 1:50, and now this shift, will he continue in this vocal effect mode? no, back to "basics", what is he singing? "Canonize"? This is... something, something truly special, even after all i'd thought about the previous ones i didn't expect this. "And I make myself escape all the multitude of"... something. "It comes always off the page", OMG, the distortions here, that's actually SO SICK, how tf did he do that, this is crazy. ***
6. 666 ʇ
satan track christians get out reeeeeee lol hmmm... definitely back in his electronic sampley mode... those cold distant beats... something very childlike about the loopiness, i actually love this so much. toys marching in. "Sixes hang in the door, what kinda shit to ignore", s/o to drake?? omg and the sounds at 1:25? what the??? and i hear a drum kit warming up, and wow this expansion in instrumentation... "Help me reach the hell of"? "Living out two separate lives, feel like that's some kinda quandary", and then the SAX and then these DRUMS, all genres rush together and meet at the source... I can't wait to go back and look at all these lyrics. The brief regress to the most basic form of the beat, again, such genius structuring, such insights of anticipation, even on this first listen. LOL what just happened at like 3:30? the boom-ba-chi sorta sound, I loved that, I love all of this. how will this one end? rushup explosion? 4m12s wow 412 thats like my personal numerology lol. nice wow. ***
7. 21 M◊◊N WATER
o damn nice transition. so this one is... one less than justin. and it feels like a sort of... primordial sound... a sound of creation... deep nebula sort of sounds, and then these strange vocal samples? ahhh... it's like... right on the edge of meaning, of recognition. "The math ahead, the math behind it, it's moon water", ahh... right, sure. "Rememorize knowledge", this is sort of like... gospel speaking to him, maybe? wow i have... no idea what's happening now. someone has spiked the moon water. it feels like all the samples have this breathing energy, everything is keyed to that, and yet everything is so... rambunctious... and the sax again, i'm so enamored... omg and this super glitchy breakdown, what in the world could be happening, what could this all meeeeaaan. and how far could he go in this almost abrasive direction? i guess this far. **
8. 8 (circle)
hmmm... 8 is like... 2 circles. but it's called... circle. hmmmm. well. this is REALLY NICE so far. a nice warm breath after all of that. so clean, so almost jazzy, back in his bassier richer voice, like he's settled back to reality. "Say nothing of my fable"... I feel like I understand this album... ahhh, do I? I have no idea hahahaaaa geez. but man the instrumentation is so good... "I'm standing in the street now, and I carry his guitar", these flashes of vivid reality, with lurking meaning, so powerful... and the squeals too... tiny abrasive elements like trains of thought that flash in and out of existence. "One more time just pass me by, I'm gonna make it half the night"... and the saxophone again, and the emergence out of it... this feels so triumphant, but like, a triumph of peace, a triumphant feeling of being able to sleep and things making sense. omg and this beat coming on here at 4:30?? what the heck? what was that? it's like all these little sidecurrents well up but are quieted, all is united into this circle shape, it's steady for once... wow, oh wow. ***
ahhhh the saxophone again, i love it so so much. it's like it's saying goodbye to us now ;_;... "well, I'll be gone in five", is that what he's saying? his voice has yet to be this raw yet. "I've been caught in fire", "I've been carved in fire", "What comes prior to?", my god... and the autotuning of the sax now, that sort of... i always picture rainbows, like a sort of allcolour between the notes that bend to each other... it's so vivid, i can't explain it... man for an album that feels so atheist this is such a religious message, such a christian redemption, or it has all that beauty, i think this is maybe the key... "I know what the truth is: fire, fire"... and then the banjo comes in and picks for a bit, but is now already drifting away into space omg omg ***
10. 00000 Million
"Must've been forces that took me on them wild courses", this is the most colloquial way of explaining what i think is a manic episode i've ever heard. "I worry about rain, and I worry about lightning"... "The days have no numbers"... omg... this soft spilling voice... this is really something... incredibly special... i never could have expected this, i didn't understand. every aspect of the instrumentation is almost painfully beautiful for me. "It harms me it harms me it harms me, like a lamb"? omg and then this little fluttering of guitar... "I walked it off", i guess this is... sorta what happened... mentally... oh my goodness. this was really something.
Well it harms it harms me it harms, I'll let it in
I just looked up those lyrics now. I needed to know ASAP. I am really really super excited to listen to this again and then many more times. I feel like there is so much to hear and discover and love on it. I know I talked about how the first tracks had set this incredible range of potential but it really didn't come close to setting the boundaries of this album. He basically took everything people loved about his music to this point - wonderful instrumentation, compelling structures, insightful lyrics - and stripped them of all their tonal qualifiers, recreating them with the much broader pallet of loops, samples, synths, saxes, drums, and yeah, banjos and pianos too. There was a beautiful album-sized arc of revelation and acceptance but each track had unique and compelling elements such that I wish they all also had extended versions like the first two singles.
There's so much I want to say in praise but there's still so much I don't understand. All I can say now is superficial things about the beauty and surprise but there's whole worlds of meaning that inform those choices. Pretty much every song has enough stuff already to make a very long song of the day post so maybe we'll get to them but then again maybe not. My general thesis for the overall meaning of the album is something like... in absence of God, he's struggling to find meaning in the world and in his life: first this is anger at God, which then morphs into a sort of nostalgia for understanding, which forms an album- and life-length code, numerological and otherwise, which seems on the verge of explaining absolutely everything and imbuing it with satisfying meaning... A frantic, manic, feeling, perhaps unrewarded, ultimately, but that eventually settles into peace, into being able to move forward with your life. I have very many thoughts about this but I have to go soon so they'll have to wait.
It is a good album, it is prolly my AOTYSF, please check it out.