People hate change. They aren’t programmed for it. It scares them, freaks them out, makes them angry. From observation, it seems that people especially hate change when it’s concerning something that they think of fondly. The prospect of a treasured subject engaging in a process of alteration fucks with an individual’s being beyond contemplation. Remember when Twitter killed of favourites and replaced them with likes? There was bedlam. In reality, nothing, other than the operational term, was different – but people really like Twitter, and people really hate change, so bedlam ensued. It was simply too much to cope with. It’s the same reason your mum gets emotional when, as a child, you begin to visibly age. ‘You’re no longer my baby anymore’ she’ll cry, when in reality, that’s still exactly what you are. I think it’s probably a control thing. As human beings, we enjoy an authority over things we hold dear, because we think that’ll make them less likely to hurt us. You can apply this school of thought to pretty much anything.
Radiohead released Kid A in 2000, their fourth studio album. It came three years after Ok Computer, a record that was grand, daring and universally adored. For fans of UK guitar music, Ok Computer was a musical mecca. It took the multi-layered, emotionally invested rock of 1995’s The Bends, and radicalised it, resulting in a record that took the genre’s sonic tropes and built them into something completely new. It was met with universal acclaim. Tracks such as Paranoid Android and Karma Police borrowed from nothing – they were crazy, beautiful, epic but still, indisputably Radiohead. As gorgeously original as No Surprises is (if you haven’t heard it, think if Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World was about suicide), you could still see Fake Plastic Trees in there (if What A Wonderful World was about, er – plastic.) No panic. Until Kid A happened.
It began with the haunting Everything In It’s Right Place, a detached electronic track that featured Thom Yorke’s distorted vocals repeating the eponymous declaration. Textually, it’s a beautiful track, probably one of the best they’ve ever written, but it sounded completely unlike anything that had preceded it. The rest of the album followed suit. Naturally, people hated it.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Now, it’s only a minority that find themselves repelled by Kid A’s wonderful oddness. The general consensus is that it’s one of the finest music releases of the 21st century, equal to, if not surpassing, the cultural significance of Ok Computer. It’s an intricately constructed electronic record, that demands your utmost attention and respect. Much of it exists as allegory, set against a fragmented sonic landscape – it’s as eerie as it is stunning, as relevant as it is mythical. But at the time, because of the dramatic change in direction it signalled, people were terrified. Where were the guitars? Now, Radiohead are viewed as the daring pioneers of change, but back then, they were losing their minds.
I see the same thing happening with Bon Iver. Since the beginning of August, Justin Vernon and co have been sharing tracks from their new album 22, A Million. Much like Kid A, these pieces of music represent a dramatic change in direction. The songs encompass a wildy eclectic, hybrid assortment of influence and sound. Predominantly electronic, the tracks contain elements of folk, dream-pop, soul and hip-hop, all while Vernon’s signature musings are allowed to take shape. Conventional structures are forgotten, previous escapades confined to history. As you can imagine, people are *Losing Their Shit*. Where’s Skinny Love? Why doesn’t this sound like Skinny Love? What did Skinny Love even mean? What do I even mean? Where are the guitars? Where. Are. The. Guitars?
22, A Million will be Bon Iver’s Kid A. I’m sure of this, because from the music that Justin Vernon and co have so far released, I get a feeling of inexplicable bewilderment upon listening. A bewilderment I experienced when I first heard the opening chords of Everything In Its Right Place. A masterpiece is nearing – it’ll be released this month, but that won’t halt it from being years ahead of us. Some records stand the test of time, while others completely deconstruct the very notion of it. I think this one is going to belong to the latter category. Let’s be excited. Let’s look ahead.
Words by Niall Flynn