A new Bon Iver record, 22, A Million, is due at the end of the month. We’ve heard three new songs thus far, and I still have no idea what to expect. Exciting, isn’t it? And, you know, a little terrifying.
Though Justin Vernon has only released two full-lengths under the Bon Iver moniker thus far, those two albums—2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago and 2011’s Bon Iver—were so captivating that my expectations for 22, A Million are admittedly way too high. If it’s not an all-time classic, I’ll find myself disappointed, which is both stupid and lame. But it is what it is; a new Bon Iver album is a big deal, dammit, and I want to soak in its greatness for the rest of the year.
For Emma, Forever Ago was the sparse masterwork, just Vernon, his guitar and a lot of raw heartache. Bon Iver was the gorgeous combination of late-70s soft rock and artsy college rock, the record that got better each time you heard it. 22, A Million will be … well, I certainly can’t tell yet. Can you?
Let’s consider the three songs we’ve heard so far, “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version],” “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠ (Extended Version),” and “33 ‘GOD.’” Besides an insane title, these three tunes have something else in common: they give us the Vernon we’ve heard collaborating with Kanye West and James Blake over the years, the one we saw hints of on Bon Iver’s Blood Bank EP in 2009. Vocals are distorted, lyrics are even more oblique than in the past, and arrangements come together and fall apart in an instant. Each track is its own journey to its own destination, though they all share a similar vibe.
Are they good? Well, yeah, sure they are. I’d probably rate “33 ‘GOD’” well behind the other two, but this is still brand new material from one of the most exciting voices in modern music. And I anticipate that each one will make much more sense in context of the full album, that something will click and we’ll all nod along to each shifted pitch and effect-driven drum pad.
2016 has already given us so many great albums … will 22, A Million be another huge success? Or will it be such a huge departure from Bon Iver’s previous work that it ends up falling flat, like an uneaten birthday cake toppling to the floor? I could see it going either way, really, but I’m confident it will be daring, it will be interesting, and it will sound like the work of no other mainstream artist working today. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.