Kanye West loves Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. More specifically, in an interview with BBC 1, West said that he “loves Justin like Kanye loves Kanye” and that Vernon is “his favorite living artist.” That’s quite the compliment and quite a way to thrust Bon Iver into the brightest of spotlights—somewhere Vernon doesn’t seem too keen on hanging out. Yet West’s influence is all over his third Bon Iver album which works to make 22, A Million one of this year’s most sublime pieces of work. Sorry, Justin, but you deserve every inch of the spotlight this album will award you.
When Vernon first collaborated with West, many questioned how music’s most outspoken human linked up with the man who receded into the woods to record a debut album. All doubts were lost when “Monster” dropped; their sonic rapport solidified when “Lost In The World” came out with the release of West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Combined, their respective methods of expressing vulnerability made for harshly warm melodies and confessions. Vernon softens West while West hardens Vernon. It’s a rich relationship, and it’s distinctive.
For 22, A Million, Vernon seems to have internalized his time with West and is using it to his advantage. He’s taken his grassroots approach to music and translated it through vocoders and other electronic distortion methods. Songs like “21 M♢♢N WATER” glitch in ways that sound like a mistake, but work to exploit the technology and digital sphere. The juxtaposition of real instruments with the fake choir transforms his voice, and the blips of chimes in “666 ʇ” create a sonic space that’s both alien and soothing. Like Sufjan Stevens’ foray with electronics, 2010′s The Age Of Adz, 22, A Million finds its comfort in the discomfort.
Themes of impermanence run through the album. The lyric “It might be over soon” is repeated six times throughout the course of the album’s opening track, “22 (OVER S∞∞N).” What follows are musings on complacency and pain (“00000 Million”) and a lost sense of self (“715 - CRΣΣKS,” the album’s standout emotional powerhouse). Fame and all its privileges have left Vernon with more questions than worldly answers. Instead of retreating to the woods, he retreats into the electronic world, and, in turn, finds something sublime and jarring. 22, A Million is a holy triumph and one that deserves to be loved as much as Kanye loves Kanye.
22, A Million is out today, September 30 via Jagjaguwar.