Bon Iver’s newst album ’22, a million’ is not about the symbolism

Posted on Oct 4 2016 - 8:01am by Jake Thrasher

“22, a million” will take you on a existential journey of emotions and self-reflection. Five years since their second album, Bon Iver has released this groundbreaking work of art shrouded in cryptic symbols, wingding track names and experimental sounds.

It’s tempting to try to crack into all the symbolism in this album, but doing so would be contrary to what James Vernon wants “22, a million” to be. The numbers scattered throughout the track names have personal meaning for Vernon but serve no other purpose than to create a numeric scale separating Vernon (who is represented by 22) from the infinite (represented by 1000000).

Searching for meaning in the symbols of “22, a million” leads to the conclusion that there is no absolute meaning to the iconography. The only meaning is projected on the symbols by the individual. In a way, this is Vernon reinforcing the existential nature of the album along with his personal experiences. The tracks filled with distorted lyrics and cacophonous melodies lead the listener to realize the focus of “22, a million” is in the experience of specific moments and its associated emotions.


22 (OVER S∞∞N)

The album opens with the lyrics “It might be over soon,” asserting the temporariness of life and the human experience. This track has minimal instruments and relies heavily on lyrics and synthetic voices to create the beat and melodies. The simplistic, abstract lyrics in this track create an unsure and searching mood that is found throughout “22, a million.”


10 d E A T h b R E a s T

As expected from Bon Iver, the pains of love unrequited is introduced in this track. You can hear heartbreak in Vernon’s voice singing somber lyrics over the drum-heavy beat of this song. The song builds tension with heavy bass up until the lyrics “Or take it down the old lanes around/ fuckified/ darling don’t make love fight it/ love, don’t fight it/ love, don’t fight it/ love …” Here, Vernon begs for the preservation of the love between him and his lover. This song is filled with many references to Christianity, such as the lyric “I been sleeping in a stable, mate.” It seems to play with the idea of Vernon’s search for a spiritual type of love, but his mortality prevents the fulfillment of this desire.


715 – CR∑∑KS

This synthesized a cappella is an ode to a creek in Vernon’s hometown that fostered a love to which he still clings. This is one of the standout songs for me on this album. The quiet, yet powerful emotions elicit a strong response in me, making me really feel the heartbreak of Vernon. The listener begins with a nostalgic feeling associated with the creek from Vernon’s past with the repeating lyrics “I remember something” followed by lyrics outlining his love from the past. The song ends with Vernon belting out the plea for his loved one to “God damn turn around, you’re my A team;” a plea to which anyone who has been left by a loved one can relate.


33 “GOD”

In the fourth song of “22, a million,” Vernon explores his spirituality after being left by a lover. The lyrics are filled with both metaphors such as “I find God and religions” and deeply personal narrative lyrics such as “well we walked up on that bolt in the street/ after you tied me in in the drive-way of that apartment of his bede.” This mixture shows how personal Vernon’s experience with spirituality is. It also shows how his spirituality is related to sensuality between him and the woman he sings about in this song.


666 ʇ

With the number of the beast, James Vernon uses this song to criticize blindly following one religion. This song is covered in questions such as “what is left when unhungry?’ and “but what do you lose when to concede?” This song isn’t so much a criticism of religion, but those who blindly follow a religion and sacrifice their individuality to do so. The song ends with “just come off of your kneel/ please.” It’s Vernon’s way of asking listeners to not follow religion so strictly and instead to learn about who they are as people. He implores the listener to experience an existential crisis.


8 (circle)

This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album. It has a calming hymn sound to it with passionate and deep lyrics. This song features a lot of brass and synthesizers along with a choir to frame Vernon’s soothing voice. The lyrics of 8 (circle) are abstract but narrate ways Vernon has been shaped by people in his life.


00000 Million

The album closes with this calm song, which sounds like a church hymn. This song concretes that the meaning of “22, a million” is focusing on the moment and current emotions rather than searching for some deeper meaning. There is no one truth the listener can take from this album. Rather, the listener takes a lifetime of emotions from “22, a million.”