Justin Vernon of the group Bon Iver is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and after Bon Iver released its third studio album last month, the university’s chancellor gave members of the Board of Regents a copy.
“Let me just give you a little heads up,” the Wisconsin State Journal quoted Chancellor James Schmidt as saying. “It’s challenging music; stay with it.”
The album is entitled 22, A Million, and it is a bit more “experimental” than Bon Iver’s two previous albums. It also comes in a little heavy on the vocal distortions and numerology, and uses several Christian sources as an inspiration.
The title, in fact, comes from Psalm 22, which opens in a crisis of faith:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Mr Vernon’s exploration of this crisis of faith in song is probably what Mr Schmidt meant by ‘challenging.’ The album was a fitting gift to the board, though, since Bon Iver debuted the album at the Eaux Claires music festival, which Mr Vernon founded in the town two years ago.
Amanda Petrusich writes on Pitchfork.com that Mr Vernon, in writing the album, went to his “family’s hunting cabin in rural Wisconsin … watched endless hours of ‘Northern Exposure,’ and wrote a batch of lonesome, yearning folk songs on his acoustic guitar.”
She described his falsetto as “brittle” and said it “gave these pieces an otherworldly quality, as if they had blown in on a particularly cold wind.”
The festival Mr Vernon started runs for two days, brings several artists and thousands of people to the town, and provides temp jobs for several UW students. (Mr Vernon also launched a recording studio there that might have something to do with the town’s attraction to artists, and he co-owns a hotel.)
Along with other arts-related activities around the town, the festival has helped to bring in about $40 million in economic activity, Regent John Behling told the board.
The album, on which Ms Petrusich wrote one can hear “bottomless searching,” shows once again how Mr Vernon “has chosen to keep his roots in Eau Claire,” Mr Schmidt said.