Musically, 22, A Million, follows in the footsteps of artists like Sufjan Stevens, who on Age of Adz forwent his banjo for maximalist electronica. But the triumph of Vernon on this latest album is how he steps out into unfamiliar and erratic musical territory but in a way that feels oddly continuous with his early work and more than fitting with the Bon Iver moniker.
715 – CRΣΣKS is both auto-tuned and earnest, as the distorted electronic sound is pushed to its limits, to a point where it feels… human. 33 “GOD” has a persistent refrain sung by a high pitched robotic voice, but it’s done in the style of a Gregorian Monk.
The album, cover, titles, and lyrics are filled with symbolism. There are doors, lambs, telephone poles (or are they crosses?), an illuminati triangle but with a 777 and a cross inside of it, that rabbit/duck optical illusion, and much more. It’s overwhelming, but one get’s the feeling that Vernon is not promoting the numerologist/conspiracy theorist agenda, but in fact subverting it. Why else would a song called 666 followed by an upside down cross feature the line “I’m still standing in the need of prayer?”
There are no answers in this album to be sure. Its short length and non-climactic ending begs an immediate repeat listen. I’ve heard this effect of the album described as a Penrose staircase of existential longing. However, the listener is not left without Catharsis. If it was truly an eternal cycle there would be no relief, but rather the climax achieved 8 – Circle rings out true and clear, in the style of a triumphant gospel song. And it’s making everyone cry.
In the Pitchfork review, the comment in liner notes “Why are you so FAR from saving me?” Is noted as being attributed to Psalm 22. And they comment that “its author is undergoing an urgent crisis of faith. So is Vernon?” But what the Pitchfork authors don’t note is that this line is quoted by Jesus himself in his cry of dereliction from the cross.
I am not trying to equate Justin Vernon with Jesus. I am not giving him, nor do I think Vernon would want, the title of born-again Christian. But I do think something powerful is going on here. 22, A Million employs auto-tune in such a way that it makes space for the human, and he likewise employs skepticism in a way that makes space for faith.
photo by Redheadwalking