Album Review: Bon Iver's 22, A Million

This album has the urgency of a sweating dad holding two ice creams, as he squints to locate his family across the hot sand.

And that’s a good thing. 

Words by James Martoo  / Collages by Harry and Lulu @twin.scissors

The term 'album review' spooks me a little. For one, I could not classify myself as a musical authority by any means. Secondly, what Bon Iver released doesn’t sit comfortably with my understanding of the term ‘album’. It seems like the job descriptions of magicians and musicians were recently shuffled, with bands teasing album releases as if they were doves locked under a floating top hat in a cage (damn you, Frank). Nonsensical Instagram video teasers and spontaneous alter ego changes (i’m looking at you, Chet Nick Faker Murphey) keep the Facebook headlines rolling and the crowds obediently impatient. While it’s a thrill, it occasionally comes at the cost of the actual quality of the tracks. At times, it makes you feel like the disgruntled guy in the front row of the show, mumbling under his breath, “It’s magnets / It has to be some type of mirror / there is no way that man can fly.”

So when the news of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million surfaced by means of a cryptic track listing including 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠ and 00000 Million, my scepticism reached CityCat horoscope level.  What type of distractions and wizardry are you pulling here, Bon Iver? Where’s the mirror? Just give me another ‘Holocene’ or ‘Heavenly Father’ and I’ll shut up and believe you cut the lady in half for a while

Which brings me to what I loved about 22, A Million. It is so damn unsettling. And beautiful. As much as we love the pursuit of new music,  we often reduce it to something rather cheap and disposable. Our instant access and shuffle button turns albums into soundtracks, filling the white space of our distraction. This album knocks you over while you are too busy thinking you’d already hit the ground. It’s demanding, but not in a dying marsupial/Yeezy screaming way.

The brokenness of the opening track, 22 (OVER S∞∞N), makes you reach to check your weathered earphones are connected properly before realising that the magician had you all along. Waves of sound rush in with such authority and grace.  Drums hit you before you see them coming. Auto-tune is used as an instrument rather than a cosmetic. It’s a gold plated hexagonal pyramid peg in a round hole.

Bon Iver’s first instalment For Emma, Forever Ago has long been the love lost album for many coffee shops and montage sequences. It calls for teary eyes and slow motion daydreams. This album is harder to pigeon-hole. It feels limitless in its relevance.   

I wrote this after my dear friend on the other side of the world asked my thoughts on the album. I listened to it from start to finish. Three times. And I looked out the window at a starless night and watched a plane cruise over like a giant, peaceful bird. And I thought about  hospital sounds and fried eggs. And in the week I have had, this album put some stars back into my night.


                         It’s magic.  







AUXJames MartooComment