MAGNET’s #17 Album Of 2016: Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”

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Justin Vernon is widely beloved for constructing heartfelt pastorals, but on 22, A Million, the artist radically altered the blueprint. Many of the songs aren’t so much musical recordings as fever dreams, lyrical themes and song structures just beyond grasp. In fact, if you haven’t read about the painstaking care that went into creating these tracks, you’d think they were damn near stream-of-consciousness. Not only that, the third LP from the Wisconsin artist is in turns vintage and futuristic. Vocals and instruments of indistinct make and model can sound as if piped through staticky, 1940s radio. Other times, bleeps, blurps and chipmunk soul suggest a Kanye recording session on an alien planet. There are spells of free jazz that would make Ornette Coleman appear the model of rules and restraint, wheezy, old-timey nightclub blues and even a straightforward, singalong lullaby. It’s a confounding, fascinating record. Some have declared it an overindulgence, a vanity exercise, or accuse 22, A Million of sounding unfinished. Others will proclaim its unorthodox brilliance, call it a groundbreaking recording, or say it doesn’t so much break the mold as toss it into an industrial furnace. Truth is, every one of these assessments would be right on the nose.

—Matt Ryan