The first thing I thought when I heard Bon Iver’s new album, 22, A Million, was: “This is their Tusk.”
Twelve hours of listening to it on repeat later, that first impression still sticks. It’s a broad comparison, but, it’s also a very specific one. Both are the third albums from bands that built reputations on very specific genres, then turned everything upside down. (Ed note: of course, Fleetwood Mac had several albums before Tusk, but for the sake of this argument, I’m looking at the discography from the now-iconic Buckingham Nicks era of the band.)
Fleetwood Mac had built a reputation as California soft rock stalwarts; Bon Iver were beacons of the millennial acoustic folk revival. Instead of continuing to comfortably work with the same formula, they both decided to push the boundaries. This isn’t new; this isn’t unique. As Pitchfork noted, plenty of iconic artists, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, have abandoned their roots to explore new territory. And it’s not the first time Justin Vernon has played with sound, but it’s the first time Bon Iver has gone all-in, 150 percent.
So many artists in the past were reviled for their experimentation; it’s taken us decades to truly appreciate how ahead of their time they were. What’s different now, what excites me, is that we’ve reached a point in pop culture where we don’t reject change. We expect it.
We want our artists to become innovators. We want to see them grow and explore and break new ground, push the status quo. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But when they succeed at trying something new, unconventional, and unexpected, it’s a jolt to your senses. It’s exciting. It reminds you why you love music in the first place.
22, A Million is radically different than Bon Iver’s previous two albums — it’s synth heavy, built upon layers of electronic vocals and distorted samples. But it’s also the same. Dig a little deeper: there’s still a haunting wistfulness, a desire to make sense of this world and what everything means, what life means, in every lyric. “It might be over soon,” Vernon repeats in 22 (OVER S∞∞N).
It might be. Maybe that’s morbid thinking, but the thing is, we just never know. Life is very long and very short at the same time. Life could be over tomorrow or in a month or in several years. But we just don’t know, so why not do all the things we were too scared to try? Why be complacent?
Change is good. Embrace it. Treading water will never get you anywhere.