MUSIC

The Legacy of Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

The rapper's magnum opus turned 10 years old over the weekend.

It's almost eerie how accurately Kanye West predicted his own fate when he uttered the words "I miss the old Kanye" on 2016's The Life of Pablo.

In my head, and likely in the memories of many others, there are two Kanyes: a then and a now. Both are cocky, self-important, certifiable jerks, but then, he at least still felt a marginal need to continue proving himself.

Now, he's so immeasurably detached from reality that it's a little hard to take anything he does or creates seriously—at this point, I find it difficult to even care. I don't want to explicitly cite a certain presidential election and its aftermath as the dividing line between the Kanye of then and now in my conscience, but...yeah, Kanye rubbing elbows with Trump was pretty much the last straw for me.

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The first time I heard 22, A Million, I was walking through Central Park on my way to the hospital where I was working. It was a fall day in 2016 and the leaves were just beginning to change. Donald Trump had yet to be elected, and—as it usually goes with life-changing albums—I had no idea what this album would come to mean to me.

Like many listeners, I was initially thrown off by the song titles' weird punctuation and by the abstract sounds of tracks like 10 d E A T h b R E a s T. But somehow, over the next few months—as the American simulation began to glitch and shatter around me—22, A Million became a life force and then a sacred text.

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Tone Deaf-The Brag

It's impossible to step into the world of Justin Vernon without surrendering ourselves.

We traverse through each of his works when we are alone, knowing that by the end we'll all have cried, reflected, and been gripped by existential catharsis. Vernon's one-man act, Bon Iver, has historically humbled us with his uncanny ability to tap into the power of nostalgia. I would argue that no Millennial can replay For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) without remembering exactly where they were and how they felt when "Flume" and "For Emma" first hit our ears. The journey since then has been long and meaningful: 22, a Million (2016) proved Vernon to be much more than a folk troubadour with the voice of an angel. He was a magician, able to bend and mold technology in ways no one thought possible, while still keeping his pulse on the same power that makes listeners in 2019 burst into tears whenever "Skinny Love" plays on shuffle.

It's also no secret that his discography is heavily influenced by the seasons. For Emma represented winter, Bon Iver spring, and 22, a Million summer. Despite the grandiosity of this objective, each one's met its goal time and time again. Now with i,i, set to represent autumn, Vernon, in theory, has finished his cycle—except it's not autumn. It's the beginning of August, and we just finished out the hottest month in history. Bon Iver's next album wasn't supposed to come out for another three weeks; but Vernon, for some reason, chose to release it today, while still insisting that it doesn't release "in its entirety" until tomorrow. The roll-out is confusing and feels like a distraction from what is actually a magnificent album.

On i,i, Vernon has refined the glitchy subtexts of 22, a Million, making them more ambient and subdued, mostly to his gain. "iMi" is the best example of this, relying on subtle use of horns and ukulele to pull at our heartstrings, rather than resorting to the sweeping inflations we're used to on songs like "29 #Strafford APTS," "33 'GOD'" and the like. "Hey, Ma" and "Faith" carry the same energy, relying on a "less is more" tactic, much to Vernon's benefit. But the ambiance overwhelms at times: "Sh'Diah" could have benefitted from being an interlude rather than a full track, but i,i represents a pinnacle in the career of Justin Vernon. His music is impeccably toned and seems to have come full circle.

Still, one has to wonder where Vernon will go from here. The cycle has ended, albeit awkwardly, but Bon Iver's foundation has always relied on the changing seasons. With his thematic creations in the rearview, the question remains as to who Bon Iver is without them and what else he has to offer other than these nostalgic lullabies.

MUSIC

Bon Iver Delves into God and Climate Change on New Singles from Their Album "i,i"

They also released the album's track list and two lyric videos.

Bon Iver is returning with their fourth studio album, i,i, to be released in August. In anticipation, they've released two singles, "Faith" and "Jelmore."

This comes on the heels of two previous releases—the sparkling, electric "Hey Ma" and the more abstract "U (Man Like)" (feat. Moses Sumney). To create i,i, Justin Vernon amassed some of music's best architects of visionary folk-pop, including features from James Blake, The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Velvet Negroni, Marta Salogni, and many more.

So far, the existent singles have blended recollections of Justin Vernon's folkier "Holocene" days mixed with some of the electronic experimentation from 2016's visionary 22, A Million. True to form, though his stylistic choices have changed, Vernon continues to set himself apart from the rest with his ability to evoke specific emotions and scenes with abstract words and unconventional arrangements. In a way, he uses his voice and his lyrics as another instrument; and, like a cello or a guitar, it doesn't deliver sentences that have meaning in a literal sense but instead manages to touch on a more spiritual, universal plane.

Whereas these emotions were almost always fraught in his earlier compositions—from For Emma, Forever Ago's desperate gloom to 22, A Million's panicked ecstasy—"Faith" is all about joy. It's a pure-hearted, gleaming tune that brushes close to pop in its glossy cohesiveness. Beginning with a synth that sounds like sunlight streaming through a window in the morning, it crescendos into waves of droning bass and delicate guitar. "We have to know that faith declines," sings Vernon over a choir of angelic backing vocals. "I'm not all out of mine."

Bon Iver - Faith - Official Lyric Video www.youtube.com

"Jelmore," on the other hand, is a starkly pessimistic song that directly contrasts "Faith." Over a disorienting loop of woodwinds, Vernon delivers a clear warning about climate change. "We'll all be gone by the falling light," he says. "How long / will you disregard the heat?" Just like any climate report, it's somewhat difficult to listen to, with its offhand mentions of gas masks and general feelings of abandonment and because the message it delivers is almost too blindingly disconcerting to look at full-on.

Bon Iver - Jelmore - Official Lyric Video www.youtube.com

These two songs, with their opposing perspectives, present the spectrum of the modern human experience, in all its euphoria and pain. That may be the purpose of i,i: So far, it seems to be about universal experiences and connection to something much greater than oneself, be it God or the suffering planet or both.

The album's tracklist is below:

o1. 'Yi'

02. 'iMi'

03. 'We'

04. 'Holyfields,'

05. 'Hey, Ma'

06. 'U (Man Like)'

07. 'Naeem'

08. 'Jelmore'

09. 'Faith'

10. 'Marion'

11. 'Salem'

12. 'Sh'Diah'

13. 'RABi'

Judging by these song names, it seems that Vernon is continuing along the religious themes he began to traverse in 22, A Million—only this time, perhaps in a less hectic way. Whereas that album was all about mashing abstract sounds and disparate symbolism into chaotic, collage-like hymns, it seems that i,i will be slower and more meditative, more of a brew than a zombie-like patchwork.

A press release for the album explained that, actually, i,i represents the completion of a cycle of seasons, which is perhaps the source of its more reflective qualities. "From the winter of For Emma, Forever Ago came the frenetic spring of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and the unhinged summer of 22, A Million. Now, fall arrives early with i,i," the release read.

Though it may represent the conclusion of a calendar year, i,i also seems to represent a new chapter of Vernon's understanding of life. If 22, A Million saw God through a kaleidoscope, i,i seems set on removing all blinders and lenses and looking over the big picture, as if from above. Vernon also affirmed this in an interview. "It feels like when you get through all this life, when the sun starts to set, and what happens is you start gaining perspective," he said. "And then you can put that perspective into more honest, generous work."

Events

Bon Iver Enthralls at Sold-Out Kings Theatre Show

Justin Vernon and his band held court over a packed house.

© 2016 Allyson Lupovich

Bon Iver has been playing in New York since December 3rd, starting the East Coast leg of a tour that's played Justin Vernon's native Wisconsin, California, and a celebrated set at Berlin's Funkhaus alongside The National.

Vernon and his band's New York City tour dates have been set in Brooklyn for the most part, starting with a week of sets at Pioneer Works, moving up to Port Chester's Capital Theatre, and then last night's sold out affair at the historic Kings Theatre in Flatbush—as of now, the only Manhattan venue they've played is the Hammerstein Ballroom. As the ostentatious theatre began to fill, the excitement was palpable; it would be interesting to see Vernon play his intimate music in such a grand venue.

Minneapolis-based indie rock band Fog served as the openers, their set dominated by bass and pounding synths. The same atmospheric elegance of Bon Iver could be heard in their sound. At one point, they brought Mike Lewis onstage, adding his hauntingly airy saxophone to the organized cacophony. Lewis was a nice segue to Bon Iver, as he played a big part in recent-release 22, A Million, lending his sax to several tracks as well as additional lyrics. Along with all the work he did, he's credited on the record as "The Oracle."

Before Vernon took the stage, a Louis C.K. quote was aired on the screen above the stage, alongside several arcane symbols: "Don't text or Twitter during the show. Just live your life. Don't keep telling people what you're doing. Also,
it lights up your big dumb face."

The band started with "22 (Over Soon)," the opening track of his latest record. Vernon's gained renown for his reverberated, garbled, Autotuned vocals, which remain extremely expressive, especially when bolstered by his lyrics. Live, Vernon really shows his vocal chops, allowing himself the freedom to improvise and really perform. Backed by a powerful band, and by the near-mystical sound of Lewis' sax, Vernon held court over a huge, golden theater. The sold-out crowd fidgeted in their seats, fingers twitching. Were the seating open-floor, there would have been dancing.

Each part of the electrifying performance was flanked by shifting, esoteric visuals, taking Vernon's stage presence to a psychedelic high. He stuck mostly to new tracks—"715 (Creeks)" is as spine-chilling live as it is recorded—but his forays into the soft-spoken, whispered tracks that made him famous drew applause and tears from the crowd. "Calgary" and "Heavenly Father" were particular show-stoppers.

Every once in a while, he spoke to the crowd, thanking them, complimenting Fog—"I have a lot of opinions on that motherf*cker," he said chuckling—and plugging the 2 A Billion gender equity campaign the band recently launched. Vernon's sobering reminder to be aware that "[it's] great to have a sold out show, but there are people surrounding us who are suffering" drew rousing applause as he encouraged the crowd to visit the organization's booth after the show.

Near the end, he briefly talked about encores, proclaiming them to be bullshit, solidifying the show's cohesiveness as not needing to be compensated by extra songs. It made it feel that much more important to be present, to pay attention.

He smiled. "We're gonna play a couple more—here's one me and [Lewis] made up accidentally." The ensuing instrumental take segued into "00000 Million," with Vernon alone at the piano, slowly consumed by bright, white light and clouds from a smoke machine. The slow-burning closer, which also closes his latest record, felt like the perfect wrap to the set, and the show's most solemn beautiful moment was met with a standing ovation from the entire theatre.

It's incredible, how intimate big venues can feel in the hands of the right musician.

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