BON IVER – 22, A Million
The biggest-selling live acts of 2016 are Adele and Coldplay. In 2016 we like torch ballads about getting dumped and we like stadium shows that literally have fireworks explosions and confetti cannons at the moments where we’re meant to clap – like flashing a light at a chimpanzee so he knows it’s feeding time. In 2016 we like things simple, obvious and unobtrusive while ordering a pumpkin spice latté.
By that measure, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon should be driving a romantically-dilapidated car up and down the country, playing in arts centres and cafés to a small but deeply loyal following. Vernon should be selling records from the boot of his car, wondering if he should jump on the bandwagon and get an Instagram. But Bon Iver isn’t. Bon Iver is bloody massive. Bon Iver plays in arenas. Granted, he plays one night instead of Adele’s seven. But still, anyone challenging their listener in 2016 probably shouldn’t be one of the biggest acts on the planet.
Constructed and considered at every moment, 22, A Million is weird. Wonderfully weird. There are no ‘singles’ in the traditional sense. There is no song that sounds like it was written after the album was recorded and clumsily slotted into the song sequence. There are no attempts at a Radio 1 A-List or a sync in an Apple Macbook advert. Bon Iver is the Napoleon Dynamite of music – his ‘cool’ comes from being totally himself. 22, A Million pulls you into its world, not by controversy or fanfare, but by being really, really good.
At its core 22, A Million is built on finely-crafted folk/pop songs; produced as if Kanye West moved into an Alaskan log cabin for a year and threw away his phone and internet connection. In essence, 22, A Million takes hip hop sounds and applies them to folk songs. It shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t sound warm and embracing. But it does. If Paul Simon was a new artist in 2016, he’d probably sound a lot like Bon Iver – embracing contemporary production techniques and using them to embellish already well-written songs. Occasional flourishes of experimentation in song structure only make 22, A Million stronger as a composite whole; an album.
A less forgiving listener might mistake Justin Vernon’s third effort as quintessential hipster music, but 22, A Million might just be his Kid A. And it is certainly the best winter album you’ll hear in 2016.