Album Reflection: Bon Iver – 22, A Million
by Jimmie Linville
Writing an honest reflection of a Bon Iver record within days of its release is a terrible idea. That’s why I’ve waited until now, 9 months later, to put my feelings into words about the Wisconsin band’s third record, “22, A Million.” These albums take time.
What I’ve come to expect from Justin Vernon is visceral mutation, a soul dive into and under hidden flesh, subcutaneous tissue. This mutation, change, and the pain that rightly accompanies it, marks his music just as much as his ethereal, stacked falsetto. I remember, in 2007, shortly after the release of the “For Emma, Forever Ago,” (that winter-woodsy-cabin album that has floated into music legend) there was an interview where Vernon mentioned getting emails from so many people who had had the same exact experience listening to his album: they fell to their knees and wept uncontrollably. It seems 10 years later he hasn’t lost this gift. He has become very good at killing us.
My connection to Bon Iver is as old as my connection to playing music. I discovered Vernon’s previous band, Deyarmond Edison, in the humanities building at UW Madison in 2006, when Daniel Pingrey, my eventual bandmate, showed me “this album my brother played trombone on.” We both listened closely to the CD, impressed with the warmth and richness of the recordings, the restrained piano, the massive harmonies. Since then, each album and EP has been a soundtrack to my healing. Budding relationships, tragic break-ups, and the momentous fallout months of self-reflection – Vernon was obscurant enough in his art to let us exist somewhere there in the cabin, feeling the cold for ourselves, and on “22, A Million” he paints it just the same, gaps and feels.
Nothing feels worse than everything. “22, A Million” uses some of music’s boldest colors to rip and tear into its listeners, and we feel just that – everything. Salt cuts deep, and then honey pours in after. Everything at once.
Buy the album on vinyl, and keep it for the nights when you want to play it front to back, top to bottom, with no breaks. Take the time and just listen. Nothing else hurts this good.