Given his penchant for high-profile spats, one of the sweeter music business stories of recent years has been that of the mutual devotion of Kanye West and Wisconsin indie-folkie Justin Vernon, better known by the name of his main band, Bon Iver.
Vernon has appeared on two West albums, was at his side during a slightly chaotic Glastonbury set, and was described by West as his "favourite living artist". Taylor eat your heart out. Which means at least one person we know is going to be very excited that, five years after a critically acclaimed, self-titled sophomore album, and nine years after debut For Emma, Forever Ago, with its astonishing heartbroken-in-a-log-cabin back story, Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project finally has a new record. (And though West didn't work on it directly, "Ye" gets a shout-out in the credits.)
Bon Iver are a band that inspires fervent devotion among fans, as made clear when Vernon took the decision in August to debut the new album in full, live at the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin that he co-curated with The National's Aaron Dessner. His following also means he's an artist who can take an "if it ain't broke, fix it anyway" attitude to new music, knowing the faithful will hear him out even if he takes an unexpected turn.
Certainly, new album, 22, A Million, seems hell-bent on ensuring the Bon Iver project hasn't stagnated. There's sinister crazy frog sampling, noodling saxes, pacing that's so loose it sounds like songs might stutter to a stop, and even — shock horror — a lessening use of the falsetto that was so bewitching coming from a beardy in a trucker cap.
It's no surprise to learn this album is something of a reaction to a bout of crippling anxiety during which Vernon nearly abandoned Bon Iver. But what makes 22, A Million stirring and compelling — despite cryptic lyrics and symbol-filled song titles such as "666 " and "22 (OVER S∞∞N)" that will make copy editors queasy — is that, despite the experiments, it's still rooted in a bluesy, folky American songbook sensibility that's inherently beautiful and makes you feel something, even if you're not exactly sure what.
Existential melancholy? Heartbreak? A yearning to return to the shady creek you never paddled in with your non-existent childhood sweetheart? Whatever it is, you'll want to dive right in.
22, A Million (Jagjaguwar) by Bon Iver is out on 30 September