By Maria Caetano
Exciting and new. Like a love letter from a satellite dish, like the lament of an algorithm, the synth of shuffled grieves, Bon Iver’s new 22, A Million is experience — a haunting one — through a digital strainer. Washed off of the recognisable human traits, such as a natural voice, Justin Vernon’s new songs appeal to our mediated selves who have become somehow naturalised.
The most distinct characteristic of the new album — the third of Bon Iver after a five-year interregnum — is the use of harmonising software to distort and warp Justin Vernon’s voice. A metallic filter stands between the musician’s singing and the recordings we are able to listen to since September 30, the date of release. On occasion, this filtered voice will appear layered above the sounds of an actual saxophone or of an acoustic guitar. Other times it will stand solely over software synths. No concept boundary appears to restrain the landscapes of sound designed by Vernon.
The musician that fronts and embodies Bon Iver avoids distinctions over the blurry lines of a digital and a natural world by synthetising the make-up of our quotidian and everything present. Many conventional opposites have revealed themselves as false opposites. Speaking of a virtual world only made sense a lifetime ago, while experience moves fluidly across a world given to us, modern artefacts and the binary reality in which we conduct our lives as much as when crossing the street. It is not different from what takes place with music crossovers: acoustic, electric and electronic.
Visually and symbolically, the record is presented with hacker’s code, leet, naming each song and being displayed as a design motif in the music videos. These signifiers are used also in the lyrics, an evocation of imagery with an indefinite signified sense most of the times. Religion, love lost, places of nostalgia, and an uttermost feeling of lack of sense and purpose float and dissolve gently in the sang text, like an unfinished sentence.
The archivist will find solace in gathering identifiable impressions: experimental, electronic, folk, rhythm and blues. But rendering a definition from instrumental components is a dry exercise that says nothing of how hearts skip beats, find empathy or plunge prostrate in wondrous desolateness, knowing well they have come upon a beautiful thing. For all we care, it was this soft software, this loving bot lyricist, this engulfing digital commotion that caught our hearts — creation of a digital human, just like ourselves.
22, A Million