Welcome to Basement Dwelling, where I review new records that should be on your musical radar. What sets Basement Dwelling apart from other music review columns is that these are all albums that are currently residing in my record collection. No promo copy was given, no stream was listened to. Instead, a physical copy of an album was purchased before I listened to it. Don’t think of me as a critic, but as a music obsessive looking to open a dialogue about some of the best tunes that are currently being released.
Let’s head down to the basement and listen to 22, A Million by Bon Iver…
There are some opinions I carry that have always made me feel like an outsider when talking to my fellow music nerds: I hate Nirvana, I don’t really care much about The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, and I don’t like Bon Iver…like at all. I think his stuff is super overrated. Seriously, how the hell could his previous record top so many year-end lists? Did all those critics not listen to any other music in all of 2011?
This was a mindset that I’d held for years; it genuinely bothered me that I didn’t like Bon Iver. Over the past few months, after talking with friends about Bon Iver and my distaste for Justin Vernon’s work, I found myself wanting to revisit his older albums to see if I’d maybe been too harsh on the Iver. And you know what? I actually started to warm up to him. But in my newfound appreciation came a genuine hype for the record I’ll be talking about in this post: Bon Iver’s third LP, 22, A Million.
Vocal manipulation, samples, piano-driven melodies, fucking auto-tune; these were all things that I heard from the first two singles preceding the record’s release, “22 (Over soon)” and “33 GOD.” The intent of this record was very evident to me from the start, and it becomes even more so with repeated listens. 22, A Million emphasizes a pushing of boundaries, and Vernon does a damn good job of making sure this will sound like very few records being released right now. This album is basically the folk-rock equivalent of Kid A or 808s and Heartbreak. It’s a skeletal, cold, and sometimes abrasive record that you just know other artists in this respective genre will probably crib from for the next couple years. It’s “future-folk,” if you will.
The album starts off with the aforementioned “22 (Over Soon),” which is a whirlwind of gentle acoustic guitar strums, samples, and vocal effects. It’s an admittedly jarring track, but one that’s both beautiful and hypnotizing at the same time. “22” then segues into the even more jarring “10 (Death Breast),” a song that features a pummeling, very murkily-mixed drum beat that almost veers into a near-industrial style. It’s one of my favorite tracks off the record, and it’s such an off-the-cuff songwriting move for Vernon that I respect a great deal.
Moving into the third track, “715 Creeks,” the intrigue continues as this song is sung a cappella, with the use of some heavy auto-tune. Being such a weird idea and sounding so unorthodox, this song probably shouldn’t work, but it most certainly does. It displays a point that Vernon attempts to show throughout the record — that the human voice can be an instrument in itself. It can be used in a variety of ways, be manipulated, and create texture just like any guitar, drum, or keyboard. The end results of his attempts are staggering.
There are so many layers to this record that I find it hard not to appreciate or love it on some level. It was made with the intent to be a grower, or a record you can hear over and over and still pick up new pieces to be in awe of every time you play it. Whether it’s on the production front, the song writing, how genuinely bold and experimental it is, or how the record is structured as a cohesive piece — everything here just clicks.
Not only does 22, A Million spark a new love and desire to revisit the work of an artist I’d previously discredited, it also makes me curious to see what Bon Iver does next. It also has me thinking about what a record like this will inspire in the future, and how much more I’ll grow to love it in time.
As it stands right now, I love it a whole lot.
Final Feelings On The Record: Loved It
— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger