Saturday 31 December 2016

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #2 Bon Iver - 22, A Million

The first time I heard Bon Iver’s 22, A Million was sitting on a double decker bus as it slowly weaved its way through the congested streets of central London. Importantly, I was listening on headphones; because this is a real ‘headphones album’ and one that suits a journey through the busy city – a time where you can sit, watch the world go slowly by and immerse yourself in Justin Vernon’s weird, messy, experimentally brilliant work.

Back in 2009 I named For Emma, Forever Ago my album of the year. It’s important to stress that this record bears very little resemblance to that one.  Whereas Bon Iver's debut was organic sounding, 22, A Million is a highly synthetic piece with lots of weird production tricks, sonic manipulation, moments of distortion and glitchy electronics. There’s nothing as straightforward as a simple song here, although underneath the wired tangential and broken structures there is still the essence of a singer-songwriter lurking beneath the surface, with some beautiful vocal harmonies and little snatches of melody (often with  incomprehensible lyrics) that can float into the brain. (Take a listen to 33 "God" below - notice how the intro sounds remarkably like a Tom Odell song before it warps off into another dimension).

22, A Million is no doubt a Marmite album. There are lovers and haters. Even the track listing, with its ridiculous titles such as ___45____ and 29 #Strafford APTS seems designed to infuriate as much as it does pleasure, but for me, there’s a huge amount of beauty within. In a year when much of the so called alternative scene seems bereft of ideas, relying on repeating the same old same old, Bon Iver throws them around as if he has more than he can handle. This is what makes 22, A Million such a fascinating and rewarding listen. Find yourself a bus ride, put on your headphones and let this take you to another place.

Bon Iver - 33 "God" (Video)

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