Song(s) Of The Week: Bon Iver—“22 (OVER S∞∞N)” & “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠”

By Angelo Gio Mateo, Feature Photo via

It’s been five years since Justin Vernon and his collaborators released music under the name of Bon Iver. After the release of their self-titled album (2011), a global tour and being awarded a Grammy for Best New Artist, the band indicated how exhausted they had become and that they would “need to walk away from it” Vernon, however, remained busy, contributing vocals to Kanye West’s Yeezus (2013) and James Blake’s Enough Thunder EP (2011) and The Colour in Anything (2016). He also released albums as a member of other bands that were tangentially related to Bon Iver’s sound, yet vastly different: Volcano Choir’s Repave (2013) and The Shouting Matches’ Grownass Man (2013). The new music debuted by Bon Iver at Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin on 12 August 2016 is yet another reinvention of Bon Iver’s sound as an extension of the more experimental aspects of bon iver, bon iver (2011) while drawing upon the influence of Vernon’s side projects. In doing so, the new sound challenges fans who cling on to the folk of For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) yet sustaining the melancholic atmosphere that has defined the band since the beginning.

Jagjaguwar released the name of the new album, 22, A Million (2016), due to be released on 30 September 2016 and released a record single, 22/10, featuring the lead singles “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T (Extended Version).” The first thing that should catch the attention of readers is the weirdly esoteric characters used in the song titles, as well as the entire branding of the new music. No one who has followed this band should be surprised by their choice of crazy song titles. Vernon’s been singing indecipherable lyrics since For Emma, and some of the song titles of the self titled are fake names to places that don’t exist.

The multi-layered vocals and falsetto that are crucial parts of Bon Iver’s signature sound and Vernon’s masterful artistry are present in these two new songs. It gives the music that ethereal, melancholic sound, both raw and intimate. More crucially, it builds off of the more experimental songs off of the self-titled album like “Beth/Rest,” “Perth,” and “Minnesota, WI.” The 1980s soft ballad instrumentation is present in the drumkit and saxophone. Both sound very influenced by the anthems that Vernon sang as part of Volcano Choir.

In “22,” he keeps the song slow burning (accompanied in the music video by a burning effect on a photo), refusing to bubble over. Just as you think the song will climax, Vernon croons, “It might be over soon,” signalling the end of the unresolved track. “10” is immediately evocative of West’s 808s & Heartbreak (2008) and Yeezus with the heavily distorted auto tune and sharply distorted drums. It sounds like it could be the long lost cousin of “BLKKK SKKKN HEAD”.


Those fans looking for the acoustic folk of For Emma will not find it here, unless you search deep enough. If you strip apart all of the production to just Vernon’s vocals, there remains the fragility and rawness of what I argue to be an Appalachian/Mid-West sound that might only come from the Wisconsin hinterlands. You’ll hear it in Bon Iver drummer S. Carey’s solo project and in Volcano Choir.

At its heart, the new music premiered at Eaux Claires is still uniquely Bon Iver, but it is experimental and trying to challenge listeners. However, to distill the music and analyze it in the context of Vernon’s career “would be to miss a far grander purpose of this music,” as Trever Hagen – Vernon’s friend and one of the musician’s featured on the new album – explains. Bon Iver hopes to unlock “the power of human connectivity through music,” which is an ambitious ideal and could yet fail. But I find myself mesmerized by these two new tracks, floating through the hinterlands like I once did in For Emma and bon iver, bon iver.


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