Bon Iver’s 22, A Million: Searching For Light

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Bon Iver’s highly anticipated third album is out in the world now. Being a fan of Justin Vernon’s unusual music, I was excited about the new release, but then began to hear that the album was super experimental, and a big departure from the band’s previous two albums. I was anticipating a potentially brilliant but inaccessible piece of art. But when my wife and I finally got around to listening to it, I was surprised by how beautiful, intimate, and personal the album felt. The album feels like an archaeological journey, uncovering fragments of history, some of which still have dust on them, but shine beneath.

Rather than give you my thoughts on the album, because honestly I’m still pondering it, I thought I’d share a few pieces that have shaped my perception of 22, A Million.

The first piece, a review by Pitchfork writer Amanda Petrusich, explores how the fragmentary nature of the album’s songs highlight Vernon’s existential search for meaning in the modern age, weaving fragments of memory, cultural artifacts, symbolism, and religious references. In the second piece, a great complement to the first, Daily Beast writer Andrew Kirell looks at how Justin Vernon used the creative process of 22, A Million to come to grips with his sudden rise to fame after the Grammy nominated Bon Iver, Bon Iver. 

Two great postscripts to this whole discussion: 1) Nerdwriter’s video essay on How Bon Iver Creates a Mood, and 2) An interview with Eric Timothy Carlson, the artist who designed the album’s unusual artwork.

If you’ve listened to 22, A Million, I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Chris teaches writing and literature to college and high school students. He is the author of several books of poetry, and has released several albums of original music. He is also an amateur photographer, part-time stick-swordfighter, and chai enthusiast. He and his wife Jen enjoy reading, writing, and exploring the cities, coasts, and forests of New England.


5 Comments

  1. Ron

    I listened once through and was both memorized and confused. Perhaps that is precisely the aim of this searching new piece of art.

  2. Tanner Rutherford

    @tanner

    I am beyond excited to see some writing about this here.  This album is incredible, if you want the full experience listen while watching the lyric videos.  They were made very purposefully.

  3. Austin

    666 upside down arrow is my favorite track on the album and is constitutive of the search for truth and meaning that permeates the entire work. The movement from hearing to learning to laughter in the song’s three choruses reveals that one can be comfortable in one’s own skin and move forward even without all the answers in a world filled with beautiful mystery. This song has caused me to reflect on that element of faith in a more focused way the past few weeks. Overall a much needed album in the current musical landscape.

  4. Ken A. Priebe

    @kenpriebe

    Hi Chris –

    I too am still absorbing this album and its awesome-ness (awesominity?  is there a word for that?).  I’ve listened to it so many times, as I have with his “Bon Iver” album and the latest Volcano Choir release.  I see this new record as such a mix of familiar and new – I’d define it as “soundscape”

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