22, A Million (Bon Iver, 2016)

I’ll always have a bittersweet relationship with this third album by Bon Iver. If I hadn’t cancelled my trip to his Eaux Claires Music Festival at the last minute then I would’ve gotten to hear the album performed live in its entirety in his home state of Wisconsin. I wish I could’ve written a review which would’ve incorporated both the novel experience of hearing it live for the first time as well as the subsequent listening through my home speakers… In fact, what I’m basing this short review off of isn’t even the actual album. The record, scheduled for release on September 30th 2016, leaked online a week or so ago and as a 21st century consumer this is the version that I have, thus far, listened to. Nonetheless, here’s a pirate’s first impression of “22, A Million”… It’s good. Really good. What if I stopped at that? I guess I should add a little more. The album’s sound is confusing. It is both distorted and clear at the same time. The vocals feel like some distant alien transmission from light years away which, through space and time nonetheless reach us crystal clear… Despite us not being able to make sense of its message or its peculiar sounds. Yet in all of its originality in terms of style and delivery, 22, A Million somehow feels quite at home in the collective discography of rock and folk american records. There’s something corny about its lyrics. I have nothing tangible to back this up but at times it feels like Bon Iver is channeling a computerized, more held-back version of Springsteen. Despite what I’ve heard some say, I wouldn’t call this third album the happy version of the previously released, and grimmer, Bon Iver records. It is more upbeat yes but this is the sound of someone, or something, getting back up. Not someone who’s already up and running around. After making this far fetched connection to classic american records I would be remiss not to mention Dylan in discussing Bon Iver. The malleable use of language throughout the album reminds me of the former. This idea that a word’s artistic value is two or three fold. It is not only what the word means but also how it sounds phonetically regardless of definition. As well as how it looks on paper, spelled out; how these combinations of symbols called english would look to a being from another time and place. Perhaps that is why the tracklist to 22, A Million contains song titles like “22(OVER S∞∞N)” or “10 DeAtH BReaSt⚄ ⚄”. With Bon Iver there seems to be a desire to shift reality just a bit, to divert from the norm just enough to make you reconsider what the norm is.