Bon Iver’s album 22, A Million remains in my top 5 albums after all these years, for a few simple reasons.
First, it’s one of the only albums I know of that flows from one song to the next so effortlessly and with such intention. The glitchy matrix of voice and instrument blend and slide into each other, guiding the tonality toward the next piece. The indecipherable lyrics convey words beyond words, imbuing sound with emotion unspeakable.
Second is that selfsame emotion. It’s at times yearning, at others lonesome, sometimes joyous and at once rebelling against itself and all it’s spoken. In the skips and beats I can hear cries of fear, of love, of happiness and sadness. A few tracks in particular, such as 715-CREEKS, echo with a melancholy passion, as voices upon voices layer on top of each other and wail for a lost friend or lover. I doubt everyone would connect as effortlessly with the wild swings of tone and passion but I do, and that’s what matters to me most.
Finally, the album reminds me of a very specific time in my life, that I think I’m always trying to return to subconsciously. It came out around the time I was taking my first college darkroom class, learning how to develop and shoot black-and-white negative film. Many hours were spent in the darkroom labs, swirling chemicals and bathing sheets of paper, all to the tune of 22, A Million. When I hear it, especially on vinyl, I can smell the harsh and sweet developer in the air. I can feel the cold rush of wind in the drying cabinets. I can taste the sterile, still air and my vision shifts to a grayscale lit orange.
But more importantly than all that, it reminds me of what I knew of myself at the time. I was unburdened by life, and felt limitless. I knew that I was learning and growing, becoming something. As I grew to love printing and developing, I grew also to love the process of creating with my hands and knowing that more than the image, the process was the important part.
So now, whenever I listen to that album, I return to that space. It’s a reminder of who I am, and who I want to be. I am limitless. I am unfinished. And most importantly, I am always becoming.