22, A Million

Jago Prates, Staff Writer

Indie folk band Bon Iver released their third studio album 22, A Million in 2016. Created by singer, songwriter, and producer Justin Vernon, known for his predominantly indie/folk aesthetic and his work with artists such as Kanye West and Taylor Swift, 22, A Million was a notable shift in tone for the band. “For this one,” Vernon said at a press conference, “there’s some dark stuff, but I think cracking things, and making things that are bombastic and exciting and also new, and mashing things together and explosiveness, and kind of shouting more – I think that was more of the zone.” Featuring electronic synthesis, experimental ambient moments, and beautiful storytelling, 22, A Million takes the listener on Vernon’s own journey of self discovery.

A reflection of both mortality and liberation, the opening track, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” starts the album off on a bit of a somber note, an ode to the finitude of the human experience both good and bad. The second track “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” features some massively distorted drums and heavily emotive verses, a direct contradiction to the somber and reflective nature of the previous track. “715 – CRΣΣKS” is an a capella track where Vernon reflects over the nature and grief of interpersonal relationships, and is built around Vernon’s natural voice and accompanied by layers of autotuned and vocoded vocals. The track “33 ‘GOD’” returns a bit to Bon Iver’s acoustic and folk roots with prominent piano, acoustic drums, and guitar, but continues to have a heavy electronic influence with chopped up and repitched vocals and ambient soundscapes. “29 #Strafford APTS” doubles down on the folk and indie aesthetics with milder tones and a beautiful guitar arrangement featured throughout. 

“666 ʇ” explores Vernon’s relationship with meaning in religion and brings more energy with it than the previous tracks. It also contains similar repitched vocals, but introduces more synthesizers and distorted sound design. An ambient track that slowly dissolves into a cacophony of glitchy saxophones and vocals, “21 M◊◊N WATER” stands out as one of the most beautifully experimental tracks on the album and transitions directly into the following track, “8 (circle),” which starts off quietly and focuses primarily on Vernon’s folk-like vocal performance. It soon reaches a quiet, beautiful harmonious bridge section before introducing a saxophone ensemble, and ends with a climatic restatement of the bridge. The penultimate track “____45_____” is a shorter and more minimal track built around soulful, chopped up, and distorted saxophone phrases, leading into the closing track. “1000000 Million” closes the album off by returning to a more acoustic and folk-driven aesthetic. It features a traditional piano and guitar chord progression and a somber vocal performance, a fitting goodbye to the story the listener’s just experienced.

22, A Million has gone down as one of Bon Iver’s boldest and most experimental works yet, exploring realms of sound not often touched on by musicians today. Its blend of folk, electronic, and experimental tones makes it clear that Bon Iver isn’t interested in staying safe and familiar, instead taking listeners on a journey of self discovery and deep introspection.