22, A Million hit the ground running when it came to overall anticipation from the general public. Not only was it the first indication of a new Bon Iver record in five years, but the band’s first step into this new phase couldn’t have been more eye-opening.
Hints toward the album’s announcement were in the form of murals on the side of buildings across the globe, song titles like “715 - CRΣΣKS” and "21 M♢♢N WATER" intrigued people to say the least, and the singles that came with the official announcement of 22, A Million were some of the most electronic, abstract songs to be released under the Bon Iver moniker.
Rather than sounding nothing like anything Justin Vernon has done, as many people have claimed, 22, A Million sounds like everything he’s done all at once.
The two co-lead singles for the record can both show how previous projects and musical extracurriculars have taken abode on 22, A Million. James Blake, a frequent collaborator with Vernon, can be vicariously found on the album opener “22 (OVER S∞∞N)”, with its use of vocal samples and an overall simplistic compositional style. “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄”’s pummeling, textured percussion sounds like a fusion of tracks like “Black Skinhead” off of Yeezus, a record on which Vernon appears vocally more than anybody else aside from Kanye West himself, and The Age of Adz-era Sufjan Stevens.
There is even a return to an era of Bon Iver in which it was a one-man act. The acoustic cut of the record,“29 #Strafford APTS,” would’ve fit snuggly into the tracklist of For Emma, Forever Ago if it weren’t for the intentional cracks and electronic edits thrown in the track for some added texture.
The highlights of 22, A Million show Bon Iver at its peak, but the low points show the group at some of the lowest valleys in which they’ve stooped.
“33”GOD,”” while it has a passable instrumental, the lyrics the production is backing up are some of the worst lyrics on the entire record.“I'd be happy as hell, if you stayed for tea” ranks high, based on the sheer inanity of it, while “Well we walked up on that bolt in the street / After you tied me in in the driveway of the apartment of his bede” fails, based on how awkwardly these lines are shoved into the rhyme scheme of the song.
It’s odd because three songs earlier, Vernon delivers some of the most beautiful lyrics he’s written in a while with the second verse of the opener. “There I find you marked in constellation / There isn't ceiling in our garden / And then I draw an ear on you / So I can speak into the silence.”
“715 - CRΣΣKS” isn’t much better than the track that comes after it. Vernon has made these autotune A capella ballads work before, “Woods” and “Fall Creek Boys Choir” come to mind, but the track comes out sounding sour due to the Vernon’s autotuned vocals taking an unruly turn halfway through the song.
Besides those back-to-back flops, the only other tracks that would be fitting to be called lackluster are "21 M♢♢N WATER" and "____45_____,” tracks that come across more as interludes that make a minimal impact on the rest of the record.
The album credits within 22, A Million credit Justin Vernon as the “Maker” and the main man behind the writing, drums, and guitar on the entirety of the record. However, they failed to credit the 2007-era, cabin-ridden Justin Vernon, the chamber pop maestro and Grammy Award winning Justin Vernon, the close acquaintance of the likes of Kanye West and James Blake Justin Vernon, and the newly born glitch pop fanatic Justin Vernon.
Every single one of these forms had a hand in the creation of this record. What is up for speculation is whether or not each of these forms bring their absolute best, and the answer to that question is not really. The best moments on 22, A Million brings the sounds Bon Iver has played in the past are met with the new sounds they’re playing with. It’s signs of how collaboration can make things so much better than anything a single mindset can come up with. It’s a fact that if anybody knew to be true, it’d be Vernon.