So, Bon’s a bit of a bore, yeah? I mean, as a producer and an arranger, he can make stuff that sounds sorta interesting. He’s got a grasp of tone and layering not a lot of other guys in the indie scene have, and I’ve softened on and even grown to enjoy songs like “Holocene” and “Woods” because they definitely show a control of that form. He’s not varied, as a rule, so as to not break up the malaise of his little musical headspace, but I suppose it sounds nice while it’s playing. The new album, 22, A Million, sounds less like the anemic folk of For Emma, Forever Ago and more like the bastard cousin of Yeezus. There’s all the typical cliches of this style amalgamated here. You’ve got the clipping vocal samples; the vocal pitching; the vocoders; the grinding synth-bass; the noisy, hectic drums; beautiful organic instruments set against terrifying synthesized ones; and so on and so forth. But while Yeezus’ cavalier abrasion was a product of what Kanye was absorbing from his fast-paced, hedonistic lifestyle, there’s no artifice on 22, A Million. The aesthetic is abused to give the illusion of a message, rather than the message grotesquely morphing the aesthetic. And I’m not a fan of that approach, naturally; it’s style over substance, and not just that, but style over tune as well. As far as good, memorable moments on the record, I can conjure up three, all in the first half: there’s the stomping, mechanical clomp and momentous pound of the synthesized drums on (OK, these titles suck ass) “10 Deathbreast,” the way they seem to spill over themselves, roiling with this intense pressure; the looped and sustained vocal sample in the background of “22 (Over Soon),” which draws attention to its own artifice, albeit without any commentary; and the… the… I swear I had three, I did… I guess I only have two? Two things on the album I liked. Yeesh. And not a tune to be found below all that noise and “experimentation.” As far as stuff I didn’t like, I hate the ungainly, grotty singing and vocal pitching on “715 – Creeks,” which is a poor, poor man’s “Woods;” “__45___” is a worthless trudge to nowhere and exposes just how fuckin’ boring the man’s voice is without all the multi-tracking and layering and effects blotting out his every word; and “21 Moon Water” is an absolute mess of effects, pitching, random instruments, and tuneless singing that don’t amount to anything but a slight diversion.
I’m really sick of this, frankly. It used to just be that every month Pitchfork would shove the new indie darling down our throats, but now we deal with that plus the new Yeezus knock-off, often at the same time. Friends: Yeezus is art because its own artifice and freakishness reflect back on us as well as showing us what’s within. There’s something to be learned from a “New Slaves” or a “Blood On the Leaves.” Buzzkill Bon (thanks LimedIBagels for that name) doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the sound, nor does he even make a passing attempt an artistic statement. At its core, this is the same sort of contemptible, hackney sadsackery Bon Iver’s been pulling out of his ass for years. It’s the kind that resonates with people who think sadness in it of itself is beautiful, that irony should be a shield against actual emotions, and that indie credibility is always indicative of quality. Ambiguity (in both the words spoken and their delivery) is not a message on its own: substance is derived from meaningful struggles and passion for an art. Bon submits to his demons, and so loses any drive towards an artful showcase of depression or modern living, no matter his devotion. Instead, he opts for crooning, whispering, wailing, and flailing over mildly tuneful, sensitive-sounding plucked guitars, gloomy keyboards, plinking pianos, gently squealing strings, and nasal horn sections. Airheaded beauty to be sure, and matched against the “abrasive” elements, it’s remarkably unremarkable. 22, A Million’s aesthetic is played out, and you won’t like it unless you’ve already bought into the idea of it. I refuse to be sold on bullshit. Better luck next time, Bon.