“We need the tonic of wildness… we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild… We can never have enough of nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Days after the inauguration of a new President, it doesn’t feel like any of the uproar surrounding the election has died down, or at the very least, become more nuanced and helpful. In fact, the opposite has happened. In order to block out the noise long enough to think and breath, I find myself spending more time outdoors, windows rolled down while I drive regardless of the temperature, and in a transcendental(ism) state of mind.
In an attempt to escape the machine, I’ve found myself leaning towards music with the same rustic appeal. Enter music’s transcendentalist for the millennials: Bon Iver.
Justin Vernon, the artist behind Bon Iver, which means, “Good Winter” in French, has been making music paying homage to nature and a more authentic human experience since his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago. In 2007, an acoustic guitar and a slinky, velvety falsetto were enough to make listeners feel what it was like to be a winter leaf pressed in snow. But since then, winter has come, and the current nature of our society demands sounds that are more primal and raw to express human heartache.
On 22, A Million, Bon Iver embraced the chaos in nature and human nature by substituting acoustic guitar strums for clicks, pops, synthesizers, vocoders, and other layers of dissonance. Upon first listen, the album feels anti-folk, a distortion of nature, but there’s still an element of warmth emitted that crescendos as the album plays. Even on the A Capella song, “715 – CRΣΣKS”, a song in which the vocoder on the vocals is turned up so high, the lyrics are almost too cryptic to discern, there’s a level of honesty in his lament, “I remember something/That leaving wasn’t easing all that heaving in my vines/And as certain it is evening at is now is not the time”. It’s almost as if the truth within those words were so fragile, if they hadn’t been distorted (and thus protected) in some way, they would’ve never left Vernon’s mouth.
To listen to “715 – CRΣΣKS”, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Fx1yq3A8M
My personal favorite song on the album is “8 (circle)”, a song that’s gospel-like delivery finds an artist in intense meditation and at the height of his craft. An artist, using every electronic trick in the book to help us better connect with nature and ourselves. When he croons, “What on earth is left to come?/Who’s agonized and gnawed through it all/I’m underneath your tongue.” It’s as if he’s speaking for us all. As the song progresses, electronic scratches and bursts fill the sonic landscape, they same way scars fill wounds.
To listen to “8(circle)”, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPsBFPX_yU4
I’m pairing this complex album with a beer that is just as complex and seemingly jarring at first. Ranger Creek Brewery has a small batch series, and the 12th beer in that series is a Rye Saison with Brettanomyces (Brett for short), a yeast strain that creates sour flavors. This beer was aged in white French Oak Barrels for 12 months with the Brett. The result is a beer that smells of pears and wild yeast with a golden orange hue. The beer is packed with contrasting flavors. At first you’re overwhelmed with the taste of sour pairs, honey, and spices. Then you are greeted by grass-like flavors and the Belgian funk most people think of when they drink saisons and other farmhouse ales. Finally, before the flavor fully fade away, there’s a subtle hint of oak. With the flavors present, one can almost picture drinking on a patio at a farmhouse, watching the sunset, and listening to “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” in the background as the guitar licks flicker in the background while Vernon asks the most pertinent question of our day, “Where are you gonna look for confirmation?” Where will we look indeed?
To listen to the entire album live, here’s a great version of the album put out by NRP: http://www.npr.org/event/music/506306492/bon-iver-live-in-concert
Clocking in at 34: 10, 22, A Million, feels almost like an electronic haiku. An expression of nature and humanity, bursting at the seams within every syllable. How fitting that in 2016 some of our greatest meditations on nature and humanity are works that explores those concepts by juxtaposing them with their polar opposite. An electronic album like 22, A Million and a movie about aliens in Arrival are two Transcendental works in spirit if not in delivery.
Kudos to one of my best high school friends for inspiring this post: John Donovan. Here’s a picture of us after graduation in 2002.
Cheers! Prost! Salud!