22, A Million — a smash success

New Bon Iver album features experimental sounds


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In latest album debut, Bon Iver delves into new wall of sound


ith their long-awaited third album, 22, A Million, Bon Iver reaches a new level of experimentation, shattering the stereotype of folk-indie bands. This album, released five years after their previous album titled Bon Iver, presents a completely new sound than the typical, mellow ballads associated with the band.

Though Bon Iver remains a relatively low-profile band, you may know them from their win in the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album categories at the 2012 Grammys. The collective is also known for their collaborations with Kanye West, specifically the hip-hop, electronic hit “Lost in the World,” which appears on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Bon Iver’s departure from their normal acoustics surprised many fans, but it seems as though the band adopted a growing trend: vocal layering. This technique, utilized by Frank Ocean in his recent album Blonde, involves vocal pitch-correction, which sets a singer’s voice in a higher or lower register than their regular tone.

The first song, “22 (OVER SOON),” introduces this new vibe immediately, as the first lyrics involve falsetto vocals from the lead singer, Justin Vernon. Though all songs on this album follow the pattern of vocal coating, this track has a jazz-electronic feel to it – a result of subtle trumpet and guitar riffs. It is also my favorite on the album, as the harmonies create a sound analogous to radio waves, magnifying the vocal effects.

One of my other favorite songs from the album is “33 ‘GOD’,” a track that achieves a lilting, cohesive sound with strong piano chords and light guitar. The combination of harmonies in the background create a gospel-choir effect, casting a heavenly glow upon the vocals (hence the “GOD” title).

As the album progresses, each transition is impeccable; the songs flow effortlessly from one to the other through vocal progressions. For example, the transition from “8 (circle)” to “__45__” is almost undetectable, as the latter song begins with a continuation of the vocal layering from the former song.  

However, if the classic Bon Iver sound is more appealing to you, I would recommend “29 #Strafford APTS,” a song that places ultimate focus on the instrumentals and minimal vocal layering. The simple nature of the chords creates a lightness within the song, despite the dark, doubtful emotions expressed in the lyrics – a Bon Iver signature.

Ultimately, I would strongly recommend this album, as its experimental sounds combine to paint a poignant picture of heartbreak and uncertainty.

Elizabeth’s Song Recommendations (based on 22, A Million)

  1. Waiting Game – Banks
  2. So. Good. – Johnny Stinson
  3. III. Urn – Childish Gambino
  4. Seigfreid – Frank Ocean
  5. Retrograde – James Blake