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Bon Iver
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Bon Iver Biography

Ever since the door swung shut on that north woods cabin, we all felt like Justin entered a  future  we  had  imagined  as  kids.  It  was  an  obsessive,  simple  dream  we  shared  as teenagers  growing  up  in  Wisconsin:  just  music,  always.  For  me  that  started  with  Justin asking: “Trev, wanna be in a band?” as we passed each other in the hallway in front of our  high  school’s  trophy  case.  From  then  on,  along  with  five  of  our  closest  friends,  we played  anything  together,  giving  everything  a  go.  From  jazz  standards  and  ska  vamps, free  improv  freak-outs  and  marching  band  anthems  to  writing  our  own  music.  Through these  musical  experiences,  we  began  to  find  and  form  our  hearts  collectively.  All together   we   assembled   musical   materials   that   reflected   and   produced   a   shared consciousness that continues today: how we respond to certain tonalities, how to create atmospheres and what we want them to do, which harmonies bring forth places we seek out, how particular articulations can explain more than words can even begin to attempt. Motion and thoughts aligned. Collective goals formed piece by piece. This was how the dream began.But  dreams  adjust  in  new  realities.  Bands  came  and  went.  Time  passed  in  Wisconsin, people  moved  apart  and  pursued  inner  impulses  that  had  been set-asideduring  our youth.  Maybe  we  should  have  trusted  ourselves  more,  but  all  we  knew  was  music  and being together, so we rightfully questioned how we could stand as individuals. Many of us moved to North Carolina, I was on the other side of the ocean. For a fewyears I only heard small vignettes of my friends’ new life down south. And then my heart split when I heard that Justin was leaving North Carolina to return to Wisconsin. I watched from afar as my friends began to tear apart. What could have happened? I felt helpless. And then For Emma, Forever Agoemerged. When I read the album title, my heart sank again. My reaction  was  more  worry  than  anything.  I  knew  Justin’s  recourse  to  isolation  and  the past, almost a crippling nostalgia that prevented him from moving onward. This title was a  beacon  looking  back. Butwhen  I  finally  heard the  music,  I  felt  relief –itwas  Justin, raw and vulnerable, as the music had always been. In fact, it was almost normal in how extraordinary it was.Something had shifted with this set of music, something had been lit. For Emma, Forever Agobroke open that fantastic dream into a reality. And before the harness  could  be  thrown  over  that  realized  dream, Bon  Iver,  Bon  Iver cemented  its animation.Throughout these last years I have met many people in different parts of the world who have  been  enchanted  by Bon  Iver.  No  doubt  it  has  been  thrilling  to  witness  but  it  has also  been  odd  at  times.  Perhaps  it  is  the  widespread  exposure  of  our  lives,  this communityof  friends.  Hearing  someone  sing  along  to  “I’m  with  Hagen”,  a  sign  of  our personal  alliance,  or  “3rd  &  Lake,  it  burnt  away”, a  disappeared  place  of  countless hangs,  makes  one  curious  about  how  a  thing  can  be  shared.  In  my  most  cynical thoughts,  I  wonder: How  can  this  be  relevant  to  someone  else?However  Justin  has managed  to  connect  such  intimate,  banal,  and  forgotten  moments  to  many  people. These moments are now shared widely and no longer belong only to us. But who owns a memory?When your  voice  is  responded  to  in  the  world’s  cosmic  conversation,  when  your  words and sounds travel to the depths of strangers’ souls, life’s dream can carry you forward at a pace you had never travelled at before. The collective excitement pushes your foot to the gas because isn’t this the only thing to do? Isn’t this exactly what we had imagined or hoped?  It  became  too  much  to  handle  for  Justin.  Something  was  left  behind  in  such  a mad  dash  over  the  course  of  these  recent  years.  The  music  stopped  giving  back.  The acceleration, repetition and exposure transformed that coveted dream into what felt like a  mind-numbing  theme  park.  What  is  this  for?  What  are  we  even  trying  to  accomplish here?  The  teenage  fantasy,  that  shared  memory  of  the  future,  was  now  in  disguise. A shapeless figure, present but unrecognizable.This spectacular upheaval of life after these albums provoked an inner storm, a mental sickness of anxiety for Justin. Of course it did. The dream had taken on its own life. It all came to a head on an emptyAtlantic beach. I bore witness to my best friend crying in my arms, lost in a world of confusion and removal. Justin could barely even talk. It was only days  before,  on  a  misguided  solo  trip  to  an  island  off  the  coast  of  Greece,  that  he  had recorded  the  opening  words  of 22,  A  Million,  “It  might  be  over  soon”,  into  a  portable sampler.  The  forecast  that  begins  this  next  Bon  Iver  undertaking  is  a  reminder  of  our fragile existence. How when everything appears stable, it may crumble and fall through our  fingers.  How  do  we  hold  on  to  what  is  important?  How  do  we  make  sense  of  the events that rip us apart? What choices do we have and how do we make them? It was the  beginning  of  an  unwinding  of  an  immense  knot  inside.  When  confronted  with daemons  one  must  hold  up  the  mirror  in  order  to  see  the  other  side.  For  Justin,  that begins with 22.22  stands  for  Justin.  The  number’s  recurrence  in  his  life  has  become  a  meaningful pattern  through  encounter  and  recognition.  A  mile  marker,  a  jersey  number,  a  bill  total. The reflection of ‘2’ is his identity bound up in duality: the relationship he has with himself and the relationship he has with the rest of the world. A Millionis the rest of that world: the  millions  of  people  who  we  will  never  know,  the  infinite  and  endless,  everything outside one’s self that makes you who you are. This other side of Justin’s duality is the thing that completes him and what he searches for. 22, A Millionis thus part love letter, part final resting place of two decades of searching for self-understanding like a religion. And theinner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding. When Justin sings,“I’m  still  standing  in  the  need  of  prayer”  he  begs  the  question  of  what’s  worth worshipping,  or  rather,  what  is  possible  to  worship.  Ifmusic  is  a  sacred  form  of discovering, knowing and being, then Bon Iver’s albums are totems to that faith.Yet when  it  came  time  to  make  a  new  album,  the  music  was  all  exhausted.  After Bon Iver,  Bon  Iver, it  felt asif thewell  had  gone  dry.  Confronting  himself  also  meant  facing this  loss  of  direction  sense  in  his  music.  Through different  groups  of  friends—close, passing,  new,  old—he  began  to  assemble  proto-melodies,  vague  textures  and  specific moods  from  hundreds  of  hours  of  recorded  improvisations.  Thesewere  the  skeleton keys to unlock not just how 22, A Million could sound, but how it was felt, what it was for, what  is  was  about:  the  power  of  human  connectivity  through  music.  The  poly-fi  record formed  at  the  congruence  of  a  bold  yet  delicate  sonic  palette.  These  sounds  were  the way out from the suffocating enclosure and captivity of anxiety.The  ten  songs  of 22,  A  Millionare  a  collection  of  sacred  moments,  love’s  torment  and salvation,  contexts  of  intense  memories,  signs  that  you  can  pin  meaning  onto  or disregard as coincidence. If Bon Iver, Bon Iverbuilt a habitat rooted in physical spaces, then 22,  A  Millionis  the  letting  go  of  that  attachment  to  a  place.  “I’m  taking  deeper consideration in another kind of place–our friendships and connections to other people.” Justin  proclaims  this  shift  in  ’33  “GOD”’:  “These  will  just  be  places  to  me  now”. Rather than  placeswe  encounter  a  collection  of  numerical  relationships:  binary  code,  mystic ages,  Bible  chapters,  math-logic,  repeating  infinities.  Inside  these  numbers  are  a  sonic distillation  of  imagery  fromthe  past  years  of  turbulence  and  how  to  recover.  We  hear about positionality (“Down along the creek”, “In the stair up off the hot car lot”), strategies (“I’d make myself escape”, “Steal androb it”), situations (“Carrying his guitar”, “Sent your sister home in a cab”), new lexicon (“Astuary King”, “Wandry”, “Paramind”) temporalities (“The math ahead, the math behind”, “It might be over soon”) and repeated visuals (“Five lane  divers”).  These  words  reveal  the  riddle  of  dualities:  pain  and  love,  suffering  and redemption, omens and happenstance. Such ambiguity and interpretation is the core of how Justin composes words: there are always two ways to see something. Beneath this Daoist-impressionism,  we  hear  the  footsteps  of  a  process,  the  relationships  that  havekneaded  the  album’s  cause.  A  locked  horns  angel,  empathetic  ears  and  sagely blessings—friends  who  have  provided  themselves  in  different  roles  to  mold  this  music into form.To narrow this album down to the next step within an “artistic career” would be tomiss a far  grander  purpose  of  this  music—or  any  music  for  that  matter—and  the  cultures  of friendship  that  sustain  us  in  our  capacities  to  even  play  music.  Although 22,  A  Millionemerges  from  a  swirling  context  of  transformation  in  Justin’s  recent  life,  itis  based  on how we have always approached what music can be or do. It is not the perceived power of  money  and  fame  that  will  change  the  course  of  events  in  one’s  life,  but  empathy. Music is a pathway that allows us to listen to ourselves and the people that surround us. It is a pathway to understanding that actively creates change in real-time. Music, even in its  most  intimate  moments,  isa pathway  between  us  all.  It  is  the  nuts  and  bolts  of humanity  as  well  as  its  totality.  It  is  made  sacred  between  people  and  in  return  makes those relationships sacred. It is the buoyant substance that we grab onto when the water rises above our heads. The answer has been here the entire time: just music, always.

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