ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Bon Iver's debut album was sparse - mainly acoustic guitar and the falsetto singing of the group's mastermind, Justin Vernon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKINNY LOVE")
BON IVER: (Singing) Come on, skinny love, just last a year. Pour a little salt. We were never here. My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my.
SHAPIRO: That was 2007. Since then, Bon Iver's sound has evolved. The group has just released its third album "22, A Million." Critic Will Hermes says it's one of the best so far this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF BON IVER SONG, "10 DEATH BREAST")
WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Shortly after Justin Vernon released the first two songs from the new Bon Iver record, the group's Facebook page was full of irate fans complaining about the electronic gadgets and chipmunk vocals. The guys' first record was recorded in a hunting cabin and sounded something like old-fashioned folk music. This album definitely doesn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "10 DEATH BREAST")
BON IVER: (Singing) I've been sleeping in a stable, mate. Not going to do you no favors. But I got to see you trying.
HERMES: But the more I listened to this record, the more I came to realize that, in 2016, electronic music is folk music. Computers are how millions of people around the world make music. They've leveled the playing field and defined popular music for years. The question is, how do you use them to make music that's soulful? That, Vernon knows how to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "715 - CREEKS")
BON IVER: (Singing) Toiling with your blood, I remember something. In B, un-rationed kissing on a night second to last. Finding both your hands as second sun came past the glass. And, oh, I know it felt right, and I had you in my grasp.
HERMES: That sort of vocal processing is really just a logical extension of how Vernon already alters his voice in his trademark falsetto.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "22 - OVER SOON")
BON IVER: (Singing) Where are you going to look for confirmation and if it's ever going to happen? So as I'm standing at the station, it might be over soon.
HERMES: Musically, this record showcases more than just electronics. There are magnificent saxophone arrangements, a fair amount of acoustic guitar and samples of recordings, both old and new. The result is like a hall of mirrors - music made by hand with wood and microchips that blurs folk, R&B, pop and gospel into something beyond genre. At least one person on the Bon Iver Facebook page thought this new music was even better than the group's earlier recordings. And I have to say, I'm with them. As of right now, I haven't heard a more compelling record all year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "29 #STRAFFORD APTS")
BON IVER: (Singing) Motor up and get your own, oh. And yeah, you're on your own.
SHAPIRO: Bon Iver's new album is "22, A Million." Our critic is Will Hermes.
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