How We Got Brainwashed and Joined the Sect of Bon Iver

Bon Iver 22, A Million

This article was written by a dream team duo and can be read as a Bon Iverian manifesto by two representatives of the LS (Limonadier Snowflakes): Mathilde is a young pop fan full of potential. She likes getting her Vans dirty by pogoing relentlessly, her forearms clutched tight to her beating heart. Jean Calin is a kinda weird thirty-something. He also enjoys pogoing but instead spends most of his evenings eating soup whilst listening to Bon Iver.

You thought that we were just going to pass over the fact that Justin Vernon is back with a new Bon Iver album, did you? Things we already know: if you’re reading this, you’re the kind of person who reads about music. And you will also have noticed that everyone is talking about this album.

Seeing as the album is currently doing a residency in our ears – and has been ever since it came out – we thought we might as well come up with some words to describe the almost religious experience of listening to it. Actually, let’s not talk about religion but brainwashing instead. Because that’s where we’re headed.

Let’s start by saying that we’re talking about someone who manages to bring together the folk people, the pop people, the R’n’B stars (heya Kanye) and their fans, and even people who don’t listen to that much new stuff, but who seem to find something in Bon Iver‘s music that makes an album release important enough to start buzzing around it like knats around a camping lamp in a Canadian forest.

Justin Vernon is an ageing, sensitive dude from Wisconsin, whose constant artistic development keeps him exceedingly busy, maybe a bit too busy recently. He put out an album with his other band Volcano Choir, put his producer hat back on, worked with the Dessner brothers on contemporary music projects (they recently played at the Philharmonie in Paris), got cosy with Colin Stetson, and even set up a mini festival with his friends from Berlin (Michel Berger Music, heard of them?). So where is Bon Iver hiding in all that? Well, it’s this new project 22, A Million, the third release of Vernon’s folk persona, who has taken him down some wild electronic paths. They’re unmarked paths, in the vein of reinvention by experimentation, which has become an obligatory stage for many (from Radiohead to Sufjan Stevens, via Miley Cyrus).

You’ll hear immediately that it’s a pretty surprising album. So talking about it necessarily divides the fans from the critics. There’s nothing to compare with his first opus of fragile, brokenhearted folk, and little to compare with the second album, even though this one was already engaging in a flirtation with electronica, and a touch of kitsch. But only one album has the sax of Phil Collins in “Beth/Rest”, then the grinding sax of Colin Stetson, and it’s this one.

The 22, A Million project has been germinating for a while now. It’s a hybrid object, put together in direct collaboration with Eric Timothy Carlson. He’s the artist who came up with all the symbolism that permeates the album, and turns it resolutely into a concept-album. OK, we said it. It’s a project which exists for and within itself, opening with “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” and closing with “00000 Million”. From the first listen, you have to make a choice: you join the sect of the prince of indiestan (that country where Sufjan Stevens reigns king), or you leave. Alone, probably.

This third album is the machine revolution, on point digital effects, blip blop and vocoder. The folk roots are still present but they flit around. So, this might be a little frightening the first time, but we’re dealing with a blockbuster of sensitive pop. It’s meant to hurt a bit. And anyway, in the presence of music with such amazing melodic complexity, we’re not really “there”. There weird tracks have to be taken like little melodic pebbles you find on a shingle beach, those ones that catch the sun and shine and blind you. They’re beautiful and naïve, Bon Iveresque, you see, but they’ve been pimped and plumped, stretched, melted, compressed, and aired, with complex technical skill.

Those who don’t like it will find this complexity vain and pointless, but we find it effective and it makes us want to listen again and again. It’s like an electronic circuit board, running everything quietly, subtly but powerfully. This is where the brainwashing process begins…

It seems like he’s continually asking himself how to transcribe “pure” emotions whilst being adored, becoming a victim of the media, marketing, and helmeted clones that our culture has spawned… without falling into a gulf of weepy cynicism. This completion is reached by using contradictory music, which is searching for itself amongst its textures, in its pared-down environment, in its abundance, in its First Class degree in melancholy-holding melodies, in its random sound gimmicks which always come back at the exact moment when your heart is about to melt…

So yes, now we belong to the wacky and immense humanoid sect of Bon Iver fans. We spend our spare time trying to crack his codes, its signs, the album’s marketing codes, finding answers to questions that nobody is even asking, buying a beard and letting our baseball cap grow… But more than anything, we’re fulfilled by these tracks which are much more sincere than they are mysterious, and which are able to bring together so many different people who like music.

You may have noticed that we haven’t gone and analysed the tracks one by one, because the album is an autonomous production which works in a closed circle. So we’ll let you (re)discover it via these cryptic lyric videos. Follow our guru, he is kind and he doesn’t ask for money:

Bon Iver 22, A Million

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Limonadier is now available in English thanks to my inimitable team of French-reading, English-writing waifs and strays. We translate the articles from French, and write new pieces in English. I like haze pop (Beach House), lyrical hip hop (Rejjie Snow, French 90s), bass (Thundercat, bassy dance music, and things like Pixies and Jack White) and that mysterious genre of proper music which we don't discuss much here but is quaintly known as 'classical'. *** Il était une fois, le Limonadier était une publication uniquement francophone. Puis vint l'équipe British, lancé par Miss Joanna avec le précieux soutien des chers fondateurs, et c'était parti, vers l'infini et au delà ! Mon cocktail préféré: tequila, citron vert, sucre de canne.