A Last Hope That Connects Something Falling Apart

04 September 2019 | By Masaya Mifune

Bon Iver—Falling in Love with ‘i, i’——

“This is a story of an American man who’ve returned from the brink of despair and solitude.”

Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a small town housing black, yet clear rivers, woven in between the beautiful nature. It was in this town where a young man, shaped by the melodies written by John Prine as he reaches adulthood, found a music band with his friends while embarking on the journey to create his music.

As he moved to North Carolina for his study, this young man formed “DeYarmond Edison,” an everyday band which one can easily find in every single town and city, the one which no one would seek after. Breaking up with his once lover, the young man felt beaten as DeYarmond Edison also defuncted.

Having lost his faith in love and relationships, the young man cut all of his ties and returned to Wisconsin, his birthplace, where he suffered from illnesses, leaving him bedridden for three months. Isolating himself in his parents’ remote cabin, the young man started writing his music as he recovered from his illnesses.

It was from the lines of the ‘Northern eXposure,’ a TV drama series which ran on CBS in the 1990s, where the young man found the name for his new project. Bon Iver, taken from the French word “Bon hiver,” which means “enjoy a beautiful and a great winter!” is the name this young man had chosen. Similar to the land of Hokkaido in Japan, the regions in Wisconsin see a large amount of snow every year. The heart-warming mood and celebrations, a classical development in many American dramas at the time, unfold throughout the last short episode of the series, which also encompass the young man’s vision and feelings.

Released on the “Jagjaguwar” label, the album “For Emma, Forever Ago” soon become a large wave, quietly captivating the audience’s sympathy with its melody. Speaking of the album, I, myself, also got swept away together with this large wave.

The young man’s name quickly attracted wide acclaim from many musicians as it became an overnight sensation. At the time of the album’s release, with the music media company “Pitchfork” at the center, many indie music communities in America were synchronously expanding themselves. Different from the logic of the mainstream chart music, the genre itself quickly gathered and nurtured many new talents. Many news websites raised the roofs as they report on every action of the country singer-songwriters who barely put in any expenses for publicity.

The young man’s voice quickly captured Kanye West’s heart as it disseminated throughout the musical world. The man quickly became hooked up in Kanye’s grand album as he took part in the sampling process before stepping onto the front stage.

In 2012, after many remarkable efforts, the young man’s self-titled album received the Grammy Awards.

One may find this narrate somewhat similar to the classical story in which an English band’s members quickly propel themselves into the major market with their hits, marry to famous models, become television talent-like before entering other markets such as those of the Fair Trade certifiers. As they progress on their careers, these musicians start to lose their senses as they resort to creating music for the market, become a television personality instead of a musician, letting their fans down as a result. But this story didn’t happen with the young man.

The young man’s music has a flavor of truth in it. The melodies of the songs do not contain any craves for fame or wealth. In truth, the young man decided to step away from the Grammy Awards’ customary collaboration performance, a mere solid shell for commercialism.

As many other active artists of his age move to major megapolises and New York, the young man remained in Wisconsin. Even to this day, the young children in town usually claim seeing the man driving together with his parents in the old Honda car. With the money earned from his music, the man, together with his brothers, purchased an old animal clinic close to their house and refurbished this clinic into ‘April Base,’ a living space and a studio for filming and recording. As an additional piece of information, the studio’s name is taken from ‘The X-Files,’ a drama series which became a major hit in Japan in the 1990s.

The young man’s Justin DeYarmond Edison Vernon.

『22, A Million』

After his two successful hits and the Grammy Awards, it seemed as if Justin’s career is off for smooth sailing. However, as his time for recovery in Wisconsin come to an end, the environment around Justin came to an abrupt change. Years-long tours and performances that seemed like never-ending drained Justin of his energy. Unable to withstand both the physical and mental fatigues, Justin stated his concerns about whether he could still continue with Bon Iver.

Taking a break from the never-ending tours, Justin went on a vacation to Greece to find himself. However, despite spending about a week on an isolated island surrounded by the blue sea, the artist only felt continuous boredom and panic. Before he knew it, Justin found himself keep on repeating the words “It might be over soon.” Not knowing what to do, Justin recorded his own voice with the compact Swedish synthesizer OP-1 which he had brought with him before playing the voice back in his room. The number “Two, Two, 2, 2” repeated itself as if Justin is murmuring to himself. That was the moment when a new idea struck him: let’s write the next album with numbers.

Justin Vernon’s new album was a harmony of sound collage, a technique which is usually avoided by singer-songwriters, with samplings, drum sounds which were cut up by BJ Burton, Francis’s vocal effects which combined both organic and inorganic factors, captivating digital sounds, and overemphasized low tones. The songs in the album are structured insistently with numbers in addition to the lyrics and the artist’s faith in Christianity. The dual nature of the songs, the differences between the individual “A” and the absolute majority “Million” and many other factors created clear contrast.

Justin Vernon’s new album was a harmony of sound collage, a technique which is usually avoided by singer-songwriters, with samplings, drum sounds which were cut up by BJ Burton, Francis’s vocal effects which combined both organic and inorganic factors, captivating digital sounds, and overemphasized low tones. The songs in the album are structured insistently with numbers in addition to the lyrics and the artist’s faith in Christianity. The dual nature of the songs, the differences between the individual “A” and the absolute majority “Million” and many other factors created clear contrast.

In this album, Justin found a new way to help himself to recover, and, with a prayer, the methods for sealing the feelings and the insanity which had been wreaking havoc in his heart. This album is destructive. Different from his first work, which depicted the personal loss and the solitude after cutting his ties, this new album is a collection of violent music, awaiting to cut even the most violent storms into shreds. However, Justin destroyed everything elegantly. On the stage, the artist didn’t expectorate at anyone, and the artwork wasn’t stained with any indecency. Justin had created an artwork to elegantly, yet, thoroughly destroy all of the disturbance which had built up until this point, and to help to heal his mind while showing genuine respect to the listeners.

It was also around this period that, along with two members of The National, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, Justin Vernon held the music festival “Eaux Claires” at Eau Claire, his hometown. By inviting artists who they respect in addition to other local artists, Justin and his partners focused on building a new community which later become known as “PEOPLE.” Via its first festival, the 《Michelberger Music》which took place in Berlin, Germany, the community’s energy further spread throughout Europe.

“He, who has transcended over gods and numbers, seek to create a new place. What he sang wasn’t ‘Million’ but ‘I’/The creation after destruction”

『i, i』

The mood throughout America changed on the day the new president took over the office. As he had promised, the president pressed on to build the wall.

Not a single soul wished to hear a positive song. Some strongly opposed the new government, some chose to run away with mellow melodies, some fought for the minorities’ rights, while some tried to wallow in the nostalgia of what was once Japan’s golden time with the city pop and AOR. No one wanted to listen to an irresponsible positive song. It was as if the country turned back into the Shanghai under the concessions’ rules, a period in which the whole country was buried in opium, a period in which everyone is drunken in their own dream. Nationalism and federalism started confronting each other. The balance in Europe started swaying. Even in Germany, the Alternative for Germany, which strongly opposes accepting refugees, also started making its appearance. No matter where they are living, young children from all over the world carry the same anxiety and the same feeling of estrangement. (Did you know that there are no “immigrants” and “refugees” in Japan? Many foreigners in the country are “foreign interns,” an unpleasant, yet seemingly deceptive word to the ear, who came to Japan for studying. In other words, they are “existences which will one day disappear from the country.”)

People started drawing lines or becoming divided based on nationalities, ethnics, languages, or other factors. The praised respects for diversity sounded deceptive as the fleeting balance and the trust relationship which many had fought so strongly for after the World War started to crumble. Like a weathercock, many put on the synchronized pressures which they do not have to bear the risks for, trying to wave the justice’s flags. The world became filled with meaningless anger, hatred, despair, and disillusionment. People started losing sight of their real feelings as they unconsciously head toward the uncontrollable society’s inclination.

Living under such an environment, Justin Vernon chose the title “i, i” for his new album. Not “eye and eye,” not “you and I,” but “i, i.” As the “Monchicon!” had once stated, the new title seemed like an Emoji of a crying face. After having worked with many talented artists, Justin once again showed a new side of a community. In the end, the unknown number “Million” is his previous work was a collection of many individuals “i.”

Compared to Makoto Shinkai’s “Weathering with You,” the songs in Justin’s new title showed the relationship between two people in a completely new aspect. In “i, i,” the world is not sacrificed for just “You” and “I.” That is because sacrificing others for one’s ideals would not be different from how Trump induce fear, envy, leading to people warding off others out of their own dreads.

Even though “You” and “I” are both vastly different from each other, deep inside, we are connected and harmonized. The album pointed out that there are many other “i” out there which one has to consider before thinking of their identities, or of their feelings. There are only connections and no separation.

The new title wasn’t recorded at the usual “April base” but at the “Sonic Ranch,” a residential recording studio stationing in the middle of a large farm in Tornillo, Texas, neighboring the border between America and Mexico. Just some distance away from the studio was the “wall” whose construction came to a halt due to the lacked funding. That “wall” is the wall separating “You” and “I.” Maybe, just maybe, without money, it would become impossible to separate people from each other. It was in this studio where the album came to life.

Many predicted the coming of the new album after Justin’s collaboration with the TU Dance, a contemporary dance group. In this collaboration, Justin Vernon performed many new songs.

The mood in this new title seemed like that of the vast ocean, calming and without any feeling of loss or fatigues as seen in Justin’s previous works. Rather, the title seemed like it was written from the perspective of the people who are drowned in sentiment. However, that doesn’t mean the title is filled with happiness and the satisfaction that come from the real situation. That’s because the world is still filled with anxiety.

The new title inherited the refined sound collage and sampling methods from Justin’s previous works while retaining the simple harmony from his first album. All of Justin’s honed experience has come together to create the music in this album. However, despite carrying the same color as other works, the expressions in this new album are more calming.

In this project, Brad Cook from Megafun, the former member of DeYarmond Edison, participated as Justin’s partner. Other than Brad, listeners can also find the voices of many other singers including Moses Sumney, James Blake, The Staves, and more. This extensive collaboration effort is what made the title distinguished from Justin Vernon’s previous works.

Carrying the efforts and the voices of many artists, Justin Vernon’s latest album is his endeavor to “Heal” the current world, which has become fragmented. With his firm tenderness, Justin found himself while keeping the image of others in his mind. Justin’s music isn’t the kind to be brought to the dance floor and surely isn’t the kind to be listened to lightheartedly during a couple’s dinner. The album is the contemporary pop music’s finest, directly touching the deepest parts of the listeners’ hearts. If you can, through this album, share the same feelings which have just been spoken of, then there is no doubt both “You” and “I” can become friends. That’s how strong this album is.

At the moment, with “Pitchfork,” the media company where Justin departed from 10 years ago, lying at the center, the indie music communities are reaching their peaks and becoming saturated. Most of the modern indie songs are just track music created on a laptop. Some of the active bands from 10 years ago have defuncted, some changed their members while others retain their veterans. Many have forgotten the old band and folk music. There is just only one single band performing for the main act at the “Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival” this year. Even so, that’s all alright. That’s because time will change. There’s even a high chance that the next trend will be the revival of the Garage Rock Revival movement, which was once popular in the 2000s.

Within such an environment, unchained from the popular fantasy, a single man keeps on finding his music while remaining in his hometown. Once the scream from his heart, once a companion with solitude, the man’s songs carry with them the power strong enough to breakdown the walls that have been isolating us from our own world. That power also exists within ourselves. It will also be that same power which will bring us to beyond the broken wall, to the future where we can, together, listen to the beautiful sounds of music. (MASAYA MIFUNE)

Text By Masaya Mifune

i, i

Bon Iver

i, i

LABEL : Jagjaguwar / Big Nothing
RELEASE DATE : 2019.08.30(配信は08.09)