The strange, otherworldly thrum of the opening notes on ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N)’, one of two curiously titled new Bon Iver songs released this weekend, initially indicates that the Wisconsin folk group has taken an abstract new direction. And while that impression is accurate, to an extent, that familiar falsetto vocal soon kicks in and it’s like Justin Vernon was never away. The familiarity roots the track, preventing it from seeming inaccessible.
Both are taken from Vernon and co’s upcoming third album ’22, A Million’. Across the board, the record boasts the weirdest song titles since Zayn Malik’s 'Mind Of Mine': ‘33 “GOD”’ and ‘715 – CRΣΣKS’ are just a couple of examples.
2011's full-length release ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver' took a more traditional singer-songwriter approach than its hushed, sparse predecessor ‘For Emma, Forever Ago', but there are real elements of experimentalism in ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N’ and its accompanying song, ‘10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄’. The former’s clipped gospel sample and snatched glimpses of a high-pitched vocal remind us why Kanye West proved himself a Bon Iver devotee on ‘Lost In The World’, the torch song from his 2010 magnum opus ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’.
Everything about ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N)’ is airy and ethereal – the aural equivalent of creative white space – but the individual elements are woven together to create a piece of music that packs real emotional heft. The jazzy trumpet, the glossy, unspooling guitar, the lyric “As I’m standing at the station / It might be over soon” – all of this conveys a tangible sense of anxiety. Then that elegiac string coda unwinds at the end, ending on a note of optimism.
The latter track is a bit of a banger, opening with distorted, churning percussion juxtaposed with that warmly familiar vocal. “Love – don’t fight it,” he sings amidst clips of distorted vocal buzz, reminding us to retain our perspective in an emotional maelstrom. The music is a little more avant-garde than on Bon Iver’s past outings, but the lyrics and delivery are as emotionally astute as ever.