Friday, September 30th saw the release of 22, A Million, indie folk band Bon Iver’s newest and most cryptic album yet. Justin Vernon, the frontman of Bon Iver, has once again succeeded in producing the kind of music it’s impossible not to connect deeply with.
Vague lyrics set to an evocative, transcendental atmosphere, create an album that is a kaleidoscopic journey across many different landscapes. Vernon’s characteristic shaky whisper of a voice reaches a new magnitude with 22, A Million, yet still retains its ability to strike close to the heart.
Although Bon Iver maintains the same raw, acoustic quality associated with their previous albums, their latest addition is a more eclectic blend of sound in comparison to the bleak, desolate soundscape of a man crying out with his guitar heard on For Emma, Forever Ago.
Whereas previous albums touched upon loss, heartbreak, and isolation, 22, A Million reaches a new dimension in its metaphysical exploration of the soul. Just as Bon Iver, Bon Iver and For Emma, Forever Ago attached profound meaning to physical places and moments in time, 22, A Million finds its depth in numerology, a major theme throughout the album, one which only serves to add layers of complexity to it’s already ambiguous nature.
The album opens with “22 (OVER SOON),” and the steady pulsing of a single note. Floating acoustics and vocals accompany various samples as they fade in and out in a steady flow. Almost as if to tease the listener, sound seems to periodically flicker in and out, giving the illusion of a broken frequency. Vernon seems to speak to a very personal matter (“Where you gonna look for confirmation?”) in a minimalist yet powerful way. As the song fades, it ends on a haunting, final confirmation (“It might be over soon”).
“33 God” grapples with the fleeting nature of existence. Vernon spills his soul as he contemplates the isolation that comes with the impermanence of life, while a voice echoes as if from a distance, “When we leave this room, it’s gone.” He goes on to declare that he will abandon his attachment to moments gone-by (“These will just be places to me now”), which puts the sentiments found in his last album into an interesting bit of context. The track covers a lot of ground stylistically, but even as the lyrics jump from scene to scene, the song maintains a sort of stream of consciousness that has an almost prayer-like quality.
With “00000 Million”, Bon Iver completes the circle that began with “22 (OVER SOON).” Just as the listener tries to make sense of the numerology and meaning encoded in each track, Bon Iver seems to come to his own conclusion about the meaninglessness of our own constructs; in this case, a numerical system that attempts to categorize and inject meaning into every facet of human experience.
Vernon’s heavy-hearted examination of his own status in life is interjected by a sample dreamily repeating, “where the days have no numbers,” which could possibly be interpreted as Vernon’s wistful search for “home,” but is most likely a rejection of an idealistic, meaningful view of life.
This album is the very picture of productive suffering. With symbolic numerology dispersed in an elusive stream of conscious that flows from romantic melodies to violent intensity, 22, A Million is the soundtrack of an existential crisis. Bon Iver manages to masterfully weave between deeply personal emotions and a larger narrative about the nature of existence.
On his own deeply personal search for meaning, Bon Iver seems to be abandoning his own attachment and sentiment, an integral theme of his previous album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. In this sense, 22, A Million is a temple for Vernon’s soul-searching and self-realization. It is a re-evaluation of both his own self, and everything he has built his music on.
In the end, Vernon seems to come to the conclusion that his spiritual journey is one that is, while necessary, also meaningless in the end (“A word about Gnosis: it ain’t gonna buy the groceries/Or middle out locusts, or weigh to find”). Whether Vernon’s journey is arbitrary or not, 22, A Million is an album definitely worth a listen.