“22, A Million”
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Justin Vernon establishes himself as one of music’s boldest, most creative artists.
About halfway through “22, A Million” (Jagjaguwar), Bon Iver’s stunning third album, Justin Vernon’s voice starts to come into its own.
No falsetto. Less processing through the Vocoder-like, voice-bending software. Just Vernon sounding warmer, sweeter, stronger than ever.
It feels like a victory to hear him (and an electronically created chorus) sing on “00000 Million,” “I worry about shame and I worry about a worn path and I wander off, just to come back home,” like so many who left their comfort zones to battle and return home conquering heroes.
Vernon’s personal struggles have been well-documented. After Bon Iver won the best new artist Grammy and best alternative music album for “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” in 2012, Vernon announced he would take a lengthy break. He began having panic attacks and was treated for depression, personal details he says he reveals to let others know they aren’t alone.
During that period, Vernon began collaborating with many artists, most notably Kanye West and James Blake. The influence of West is evident in “666,” which builds from quiet, melodic synths to a thundering close of pounding drums, one of the few appearances of percussion on the whole album.
But Vernon is also building a style all his own. In “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” he takes the phrase that inspired the album (“It might be over soon”) and repeats it like a mantra as well as offers its origin. His poetic lyrical fragments create several indelible moments, especially on the gorgeous, yet wrenching, “29 #Strafford APTS” about a relationship dissolving, made even more poignant by the way Vernon layers his vocals on top of each other.
Bon Iver’s “22, Million” somehow manages to surprise even after Vernon has surprised us all twice before, a sign that his creativity and skill continues to grow by leaps and bounds.