Though I wasn't really planning on it, I figured I should post something more definitive to show my appreciation of 22, A Million, considering how much I listen to it. Unfortunately, I have a habit of not writing about records that I think are great ( ex. Chance/ Radiohead. I promise I’ll post those reviews. If you lot are curious, both will receive A’s). I feel this internal pressure to write something grand every time I hear an album that touches me with any sort of depth, enveloped in the mindset that my review should match the album in terms of weight and quality. I want you to know how much I loved it and why I felt so connected to the work, but I want to do it without saying TOO much.
It’s just…can I be honest with you guys? Is this a…*looks around, whispers* safe place? *Everyone gathers around the the fire pit (we’re at a fire pit, obviously), Alice gives me a subtle nod, instilling confidence* My reviews usually consist of artist information, a discography breakdown, and a brief overview of the album as a whole. I focus on feel more than anything else. Dissecting lyrics, or any sort of written word, especially in a figurative sense, is a personal thing; even if the message is universal, it will take on a different meaning based on your life. So instead I like to talk about the atmosphere it creates, so you can apply it to a mood and take from the album what you need, rather than having my voice telling you what you should be feeling. My goal is only to give you a push and let you explore, to make you curious. I hope this is the what you get when you read anything I write.
Now, FINALLY, let’s talk 22, A Million. This record glows. Plain and simple. And at 10 tracks and a short and sweet 34 minutes in length, it never intimidates or overreaches. Quality over quantity is a beautiful thing. Just as sparse as its predecessors, the power is in its seeming simplicity. It relaxes the mind, nestling up beside you as it opens you up to it's heart, and in doing so opens your heart up to it.
Bon Iver's commander in chief, Justin Vernon, has dipped his toes in a few different corners of the music world since stepping away from Bon Iver four years ago; working with names like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, James Blake, POLIÇA, the list goes on. It’s an impressive feat artistically, to have such a universal style that it can be bent to work in any genre, yet also still be so unique. Vernon's footprint has been carefully placed, working consistently, but not constantly, choosing suiters with a vision and not just assisting artists looking for a quick hit. Then again, even with Bon Iver, he's always come from a place of purity in regards to creation.
For his 2007 debut LP, the subtle and dream inducing For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon wrote, isolated from the world, and the feeling that stems from that captures the essence of its creation. It's peaceful and contemplative, emoting strong feelings of love, loss, and brokenness throughout, but in the despair is also strength and beauty. Ultimately, I think that's what people took from it, as it's the beauty that has kept me coming back almost a decade later.
The quiet, introspective nature of his sound stayed intact in the making of his follow up LP, 2011's self titled Bon Iver. However, the rawness was removed in favor a more crisp finished product. It was one I preferred, as the softness matched with the polished nature of the album brought me more serenity. I've talked to people that have said they preferred the first record for just the opposite, so I guess we should all be happy he gave us all something to have and to hold. The noticeable build in sound was what enjoyed most. While it wasn't louder, it was definitely fuller; incorporating new instruments, showing different approaches, finding more depth in the harmonies. The growth musically is what captures his talent the most here. His emotion, poetry, and vulnerability was expected, the expanse instrumentally was what took this a notch above.
Back in 2012, when Vernon decided to put the band on hold indefinitely, it was due to the widespread attention they'd received. While he didn't see it as a bad thing, he did find it hard to create under the ever increasing intensity of the public's watchful eye. And with a band whose focus and journey had been so introspective, you couldn't blame him. Well, after the release of 22, A Million, I think that any criticism or displeasure that was cast upon him has since been rescinded in favor of love, because I don't see how anyone can deny the records unique beauty. The mood, while still somber, carries a much different atmosphere than its predecessors. It's filled with so many subtleties, capturing a rough sort of elegance in all the cracks and corners, as well as in the open. With touches of jazz mixed in with the ambient acoustics, orchestral segues, occasional autotune, the layers upon layers of sound, samples, etc. it's so complicated, and yet the product is so pure.
For a band that could have ridden the steady road and found harmony in a muted alternative acoustics type of career, they've cast that notion aside for something more, continuing to push themselves and ascend to levels that haven't been touched by their peers. Trading in rawness of sound for rawness of creation, putting out a genre bending record that traps you in a whirlwind of wonder. Don't be deterred by the evolved style, the increase in production never makes it feel any less organic, bringing you as close as ever. This record will be a gift that keeps on giving, and if he decides to step away again for any extended period of time, this will hold me over for as long as it takes.