Good, Not Great (Bon Iver, 22 A Million)
I’m glad I went to art school. I was exposed to a lot of people looking to impress, but without anything real to offer up. The struggle of the artist isn’t one of employment, it’s whether they can commit to a purpose and authentically represent it.
Too many posers walk around pretending they suffer, when they should put their nose to the grindstone and be affected for once. Yeah I’m feeling salty on this one.
Bon Iver – 22 A Million
released September 30, 2016
Bon Iver is a multi-instrumentalist group headed by Justin Vernon, one that focuses on indie folk and which has been around since 2007. They’ve put out 3 full-length studio albums at this point, but it has been five years since their last album was released.
22 A Million is more of an experiment then anything. Lots of the songs go into unique directions, ascending and descending, depending on the song, but often cutting short before we see a real resolution. I think I may have been spoiled this year dear readers, there have been so many great album releases that Bon Iver didn’t really have a chance.
I should be more clear with my intent – it feels like the songs have lost all interest in established forms of songwriting, and they don’t really help us to whatever atmosphere the group had strived for; thanks Justin and friends. It’s a challenge against convention, a battlecry against form, but the other team didn’t want to show up.
Folk music is in a difficult place these days it seems. While pop music has continued to explore what’s possible and even make conceptual decisions that are exciting, especially this past year, folk artists that dabble in pop should be uniquely poised to come out ahead. And yet, this album feels a lot like the late oughts. I find it very confusing. We’ve explored these themes already.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed parts of this album and it sounds beautiful, but as a professor of mine once said, I’m grading you based on your own ability and not on a preset standard, because that’s the only way you’ll grow. After all, I think it can be exciting when we reject tradition in favour of exploration, but exploration for explorations sake? Come on Bon Iver, wake up.
This album is a complete mess in terms of it’s composition. I might as well be listening to a 35 minute solo track in long form.
Literally every song on this album features some sort of dichotomy, good vs evil, up vs down, I could go on, but the point being made is one of tension. Even the song titles are written with symbols and avant garde grammar, it’s pretentious and we’ve seen that trick before too – leet speak is dead. Maybe I’m completely off my rocker here folks, but 22 A Million is not groundbreaking, it’s evocative, haunting, and a great jazz session. We should look at this as more of a mixtape then anything, and hopefully when the rest of the world wakes up, Bon Iver will have put their pants back on.
Maybe that was a harsh criticism, but I really do believe these guys are capable of a lot more than we saw on this record. I want to believe that this was just a misstep, but the flourishes and fawning of the masses over this record are driving me nuts friends. Listen to this one at your own discretion, but don’t for a second fall into the hype. It’s good, not great.