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Bon Iver scraps strings for auto-tune in ‘22, A Million’

Ending nearly five years of silence, Justin Vernon reanimates his brainchild Bon Iver with a perplexingly symbolic tone.

“22, A Million” leaves the sound of the original Silvertone guitar at the door and replaces it with heavily distorted and tweaked sounds that can sometimes sound like a mistake, or just bad recording. In fact, it’s hard to pick out acoustic instruments in the garble or auto-tune and electric static.

Bon Iver review
Bon Iver brought album “22, A Million” out of the darkness after a hiatus prompted by a letting go of the past. (Photo courtesy of Jagjaguwar)

However, the intentionality of imperfect techniques solidifies the band’s motif that music is a canvas and can be manipulated.

Pitched vocals and heavily distorted beats make “22, A Million” an almost pseudo folk/pop fusion.

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It’s not only the varied music that sets this album apart, but also the lore behind the album.

For weeks before its release, pop-up murals and a symbol-heavy track list tantalized fans that couldn’t figure out what the hell Vernon was getting at. And with the tease of three electro-heavy singles performed at Vernon’s own Eaux Claires fest, some fans were irate at the change in tone.

Beautifully contrasted elements blend together to bring a new age of folk music into the limelight.

Bon Iver’s cryptic styling sets the outfit on par with the likes of fellow album-dropping legends Beyoncé and Frank Ocean. “22, A Million” shows a popularized sub-culture of both top secrecy and long-awaited homecomings, where albums are unanticipated but are given a warm welcome.

On the album artwork’s noticeably tome-like cover, symbols that supposedly represent each song create what artist Eric Timothy Carlson calls “a book of lore… The Rosetta Stone” for the album. In an interview with Pitchfork, he went into the process of working with Vernon to create the symbols.

“Between the numerology, the metaphysical/humanist nature of the questions in ‘22, a Million,’ and the accumulation of physical material and symbolism around the music—it became apparent that the final artwork was to be something of a tome,” Carlson said.

In a press release announcing the new album, it explained the intent of the album. It’s a sort of understanding and letting go of the past, and the first album that started the outfit.

It described “22, A Million” as “part love letter, part final resting place of two decades of searching for self-understanding like a religion. And the inner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding.”

The fusion of old and new hints at a new chapter in folk music. What sounds like pop music may be easily translated as folk to Internet natives, and this new wave could be the start of something revolutionary.

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