Justin Vernon, the brooding voice behind Bon Iver, has had quite a decade. Since the release of his first album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2008, his high-profile collaborations with artists such as Kanye West, as well as Grammy wins for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album, have sent Vernon’s reclusive personality into the spotlight. In the wake of his recent stardom, Vernon’s newest album 22, a Million seems to highlight his nonconformity and desire for isolation from the mainstream musical culture.
From the first song on the tracklist, “22 (OVER SOON),” Vernon’s shaky vocals are largely minimized in favor of electronic effects, percussion, and a rhythmic foghorn-like sound – a large step away from his earlier and quieter tracks such as “Skinny Love” and “Holocene.” It is a change in style that some fans of Bon Iver’s older work may find alienating. Throughout the album, Vernon continues to employ new sounds and effects such as layering, synth, and saxophone, as well as a wide range of vocal effects, from the jarring falsetto on “21 Moon Water” to the surprisingly direct, straightforward singing in “_____45_____”; yet, in spite of Vernon’s plunge into the experimental, there are still traces of his older and more established style to be found throughout the album (he never gives up his signature folk guitar). From the unique titles to the tracks to the sounds themselves, Bon Iver has created a project that is his widest in scope yet – an unexpected, but wonderful, collection of songs.