Big Red Machine

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Where can you get a decent Bon Iver album these days? The answer is Big Red Machine. The most recent Justin Vernon album, 22, A Million, was the musical equivalent of a work by Jackson Pollock. Notes, electronic twiddles, autotuned vocals, and strange fonts were all thrown against the studio wall in the hope that the listener would see the pattern the artist was trying to make. Sometimes that’s genius. Sometimes it’s just plain messy. Maybe 22, A Million was trying to push back the very boundaries of music. If so, then for fans of Emma, Blood Bank, and S/T at least, it didn’t so much push them back as run them over in a monster truck. Which is why Big Red Machine is so welcome. BRM is a partnership between Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. They first teamed up in 2009 for the song of the same name on the Dark Was The Night charity record. Now, they’ve fleshed out their contributions to album length. The two complement each other very well. There’s a sense that Dessner can just about keep in check Vernon’s new-found instinct to digitally burble and he does so to good effect. And then there are some truly sublime moments. The highlight is ‘People Lullaby’, which is built on a simply melody that is more than worthy of The National. But on top Vernon sings beautifully, “Has me all borderline – re-erased”. In a way, a certain Bon Iver is no more. But there’s always Big Red Machine. And that’s fine for now.