Exclaim!'s Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part Two Best of 2016



 
5. Bon Iver
22, A Million
(Jagjaguwar)

There isn't a moment on 22, A Million when Bon Iver's Justin Vernon isn't impeded by something. His lyrics are driven by doubt and, often, self-hatred: "If it's harmed, it harmed me, it'll harm me, I let it in," sings Vernon in "00000 Million." His voice, as a result, is twisted, shaken and stretched, at times sounding nothing like Vernon's sleepy falsetto that welcomed us to his cabin. His path is not as clear as it was once thought to be, and yet, 22, A Million is the clearest expression yet of Bon Iver's artistic ingenuity.
 
The exploration of self, love and faith found in the album's lyrics is mirrored in the breathtaking curiosity of its instrumentals. The distorted chaos of  "21 M◊◊N WATER," the explosive percussion of  "33 'GOD'" and the horns licking around Vernon in "____45_____" all work to push 22, A Million forward and remind us, as Vernon sings in "29 #Strafford APTS": "It's not all then what it seems."
Laura Stanley