Big Red Machine

Meaningful music happens whenever Justin Vernon has his hands involved in a project. It’s just the way it is. There are certain artists that I have gravitated towards, and Vernon ranks at the top. Lyrically, Vernon always crushes it. He puts you in a sobering mood filled with thoughts about all sorts of things. He makes your imagination run wild. It’s therapeutic, inspirational and full of meaning. It’s everything you could want. A YouTuber put it best in the comment section on one of Vernon’s new tracks, Forest Green: “Every time I listen, I feel younger and older at the same time.”

Vernon and his friend, The National’s Aaron Dessner, will release  10-track album under the name Big Red Machine Friday. The album is something special. Just like everything Vernon has done.

It’s the passion he displays and the imagery behind the lyrics. It’s the production and the experimentation. It’s a little bit of everything. Vernon has been a favorite musician of mine for the past several years. It certainly began with Bon Iver and the magnificent music created with their three albums. But it continued with Vernon’s other collaborations that stretch across genres, like his work with Kanye West and Francis and the Lights. Vernon has created meaningful song after meaningful song. Everything he touches turns into something truly exceptional. This project, with Dessner, ranks near the top.

Almost two years ago Bon Iver released 22, A Million. I never wrote about that album before for a number of reasons that I won’t explain. It’s an album that means so much. It’s an album that’s on any hypothetical deserted island scenario involving music. It’s a different listening experience than Bon Iver’s well-known tracks like Skinny Love, Re: Stacks or Holocene. 29 #Strafford APTS, 8 (circle), 715 CREEKS and 33 “GOD” rank as favorites off the album, but in reality it’s impossible to pick a single best, or to even rank them in some kind of arbitrary order. It’s the last album Vernon has provided, so it’s easy to eagerly compare it to his new collaboration with Dessner. But that’s the beautiful thing about Vernon. Nothing sounds the same. It’s nearly impossible to decipher which one is better. Some of it certainly sounds similar. Take, I Won’t Run From It, which draws comparisons to Vernon’s DeYarmond Edison. That was Vernon’s second band, from 2001 until 2006 after Mount Vernon. Before Bon Iver. Before Vernon collaborated with Kanye West.

There’s something truly special to hear an artist that sounds different with every song, with every album. 22, A Million, the third studio album for Bon Iver, sounds vastly different than Bon Iver’s first two records. I’ve spoken to friends who needed two or three tries to make an informed opinion of 22, A Million. It isn’t for everybody, which is more than OK. It’s normal. Not every album will be well received and cherished.

I haven’t written much about Aaron Dessner. Truthfully, I don’t know much about The National. I know their hits. I know their last album, Trouble Will Find Me, well. But Dessner never mattered. It’s only Vernon who I gave a shit about. Vernon is the most meaningful artist I’ve followed since Adam Duritz.

There’s something mystic about Big Red Machine. It’s named, of course, after the great Cincinnati Reds teams. Dessner grew up in Cincinnati; Vernon’s from Wisconsin. Justin loves baseball, though. He wears old-time caps on a regular basis. The combination of the two make impactful music. Forest Green, I Won’t Run From It and People’s Lullaby stand above the rest, among the eight already released tracks. These pieces mean more than practically anything I’ve heard before, and that’s the beauty of music. It’s the beauty of it all.

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