Bon Iver are back. Justin Vernon’s ever-expanding musical project just shared two new songs, expanded their fall tour dates, and unveiled a mysterious website.
The new tracks are called “Hey, Ma” and “U (Man Like).” Bon Iver played the studio recordings for the audience last night at London’s All Points East festival, where they also directed fans to a website called icommai. The site’s most recent post features a number of credits, which mirror the impressive list of collaborators on the new songs.
According to a press release, “Hey, Ma” was produced by Chris Messina, Brad Cook, Justin Vernon, and BJ Burton. It features vocals from Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and sampling by Psymun. “U (Man Like)” was produced by Messina, Cook, and Vernon. It also features vocals from Wasner in addition to Moses Sumney, Elsa Jensen, and Bruce Hornsby, who also plays piano on the track. Vernon writes, “This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever growing family we are.”
Life is what goes on between one Bon Iver album and another. Or, at least, this is what happens to Justin Vernon. His increasingly complicated relationship with fame and his ego have pushed the author of For Emma, Forever Ago towards unexplored terrains like those of Volcano Choir, The Shouting Matches and now Big Red Machine, a project that actually began years ago when doing a collaboration for a charity compilation together with his brother from another mother, Aaron Dessner from The National. Together they organise utopic festivals (Eaux Claires), create alternative models for the industry (the streaming portal PEOPLE) and they also write music, of course. They are surrounded by so many artist friends that it is surprising that the result of Big Red Machine, the album, is so spot on. It’s a dream crossover, a perfect fit of Dessner’s intimate epic and Bon Iver’s melancholic evocations, of Justin’s experimental laments and Aaron’s astounding progressions. Music as an excuse, as a way and as a purpose.
Sophie Payten, the Australian singer and songwriter who records as Gordi,is Jagjaguwar labelmates with Bon Iver, and she was part of the all-star chorus that sang backup for Justin Vernon when he debuted “8 (circle)” on The Tonight Show earlier this year. So it just makes sense that she’s recorded her own version of “00000 Million,” a song from Bon Iver’s great new album 22, A Million. Payten’s version is almost entirely a cappella, but it doesn’t sound spare. She layers her own voice and runs it through a few filters so that it sounds otherworldly.