8: Bon Iver – 22, A Million
To be honest, until now I haven’t thought much of Bon Iver, the hipster folkie act founded and fronted by Wisconsinite Justin Vernon. Something about Vernon’s plaintive falsetto, at times layered into an Enya-like ooze, as well as the sleepy, strummy melodies and the vague, non-linear lyrics left me shrugging. I even pooh-poohed the Grammy love the band reaped in 2011 for the indie hit “Holocene” and its source album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” which bored me silly. On the surface at least, Bon Iver’s third full-length album doesn’t appear to be aimed at doubters like myself. From its esoteric cover art to its eye-rollingly cryptic song titles (one track is actually named “__45__”) to the jarring electronic effects that punctuate its 10 songs, “22, A Million” almost seems designed to repel less daring listeners. But it’s the challenging aspects that make this the group’s best record by leaps and bounds. Whereas previous releases wafted by, barely registering, this one demands that you prick up your ears and pay attention. One minute you’re being pummeled by the software-generated tribal drums on “10 Death Breast,” the next you’re trying to parse the gospel hymn-meets-Laurie Anderson’s vocoder weirdness of “715 CrƩƩks.” It’s an exhilaratingly difficult work and one of the biggest artistic leaps forward by any act this year. But those song titles? They have GOT to go.