By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: this is a phenomenal piece of music. Front man Justin Vernon follows up his strong 2011 sophomore self-titled with another great piece of music. But it doesn't always work, and the lack of any discernible singles may hamper the commercial success of this album. But even though it didn't always work with me, I also didn't care. Because this album just might be the best work of music you'll hear all year.
The album starts with a strong opener in "22 (Over So∞∞n)" that ends up being the most Bon Iver-like song of the entire album. After this track the album really turns into a "Justin Vernon meets Kanye West" mashup, with many songs featuring heavy sampling by Vernon. Some of this worked, like in "715 - CRΣΣKS" (which sounds like something straight out of Yeezus) as well as "33 'GOD'" which was also my favorite track on the album. But just as the album's strongest track end, Bon Iver follows it up with the albums weakest track, "29 #Strattfford APTS." I do not understand what Vernon decided to do with his voice on this track, but I simply could not get into the experimentation here. Fortunately Bon Iver brings it back immediately with another strong track, "666 ʇ." At the end of the day, the strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses for me, and even on the weak parts of the album I can still commend Vernon and company for valuing creativity over what people necessarily want to hear.
DEREK: There comes a point where I just have to throw my hands in the air and say "I don't get it". Well, Justin Vernon has produced the most strange musical pivot from an artist that I've heard in a long time. Going from the minimalist acoustic songs from For Emma, Forever Ago to the lush, orchestral self-titled follow up, Bon Iver certainly hasn't stuck to one style of music for a long time, and the trend continues on 22, A Million.
Ever since Justin collaborated with Kanye West on My Dark and Beautiful Fantasy, I wondered if that friendship would ever outwardly influence his style. Well, the glitchy production and abruptly edited samples that fill up each song on the album screams Kanye. Opener "22 (Over So∞∞n)" is a prime example. With a looping vocal that occasionally sounds like it lags or buffers, the sped up vocals saying "it might be over soon" and the plethora of other loops and samples, Justin makes a statement right away that this will not be like anything you've heard from the group. This is still Bon Iver though, so a wonderful saxophone solo and accompanying strings create a beautifully positive image. While it might be over soon, this is just the beginning; the sun is rising and it's going to be a beautiful day.
"10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄⚄" is one of the more emotionally charged songs on the album. The driving percussion set the tone and Vernon's vocals build into a wonderful crescendo towards the end. "715 - CRΣΣKS" has vocals that sound like the sibling track to "Woods" from the Blood Bank EP, which was sampled by Kanye West.
"33 "God"" is the first miss on the album. The sampled vocals, along with the Pacman like munching that loops through the entirety of the song, While I'm not a huge fan of the song, there are some interesting samples on the track, including a song by Sharon Van Etten.
The second half of the album is a rough mix of hits and misses. "29 #Strattfford APTS" is probably the closest to a throwback from For Emma, Forever Ago, but even this comparison is only because it's more acoustic. His vocals vary dramatically throughout the song, at some points become hard to listen to, but it works for the most part. The production here and throughout the album is not something to write home about, and again on this song, the laggy/buffering vocals return and sound awful. "8 (circle)" reminds me of the closing track "Beth/Rest" off of his self-titled, the biggest Peter Gabriel circlejerk that Vernon has created to date, but this comes scarily close to surpassing that.
The rest of this album is, frankly, forgettable. The biggest impression that I got from this album is that Vernon got some new music production software that he wanted to experiment with for a little while. Which is fine. The problem is, of course, that many people will take this 34 minute quote unquote album and worship it no matter what. For me, it's just a way for Vernon to shotgun a bunch of odds and ends at us and see if any stick. For the most part, it didn't.
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