Big Red Machine
Big Red Machine (EP)


4.3
superb

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
June 6th, 2018 | 123 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Well we better not fuck this up.

Justin Vernon is so much more than just Bon Iver. There is a through-line you can trace across that project's three albums – it's tangled up in Vernon's own self-created mythology of people and places, Wisconsin landmarks and changing seasons, but it's there. Identifying the through-line for his work in general is not so easy. His heart is in Winconsin, yes, but there's no guarantee where on the musical map Vernon will end up at any given time. The closest reference for Big Red Machine is "I Need a Forest Fire", which was more unvarnished and clear-eyed than 22, A Million, yet even that song prioritised the stunning vocal harmonies over a simple background beat. Aaron Dessner, not content to do the same, layers clattering drums, clicks and ticks across the soundscapes of Big Red Machine, always with an eye towards subtlety.

Minimalism is king here. Songs are composed with a fine paintbrush, sounds surfacing and disappearing into the picture almost constantly, and Vernon deepens his voice or softens his iconic falsetto with vocoder to suit, sticking to simple, cut-up sounding lyrics. This couldn't be better exemplified than in the notes for the record's artwork – spidery lines follow Vernon's lyrical trains of thought all around the page, linking to blood, anatomy, judgement and Native American references like a rough map of the man's labyrinthine inner geography.

"Lyla" is the most dynamic track, with a near hip-hop beat grounding the song for jagged swathes of electric guitar to sear through before a warm blanket of female harmonies closes up the wounds. Outside of that we're basically in ballad territory, albeit ballads chopped up with a shaky straight razor and cauterised in ProTools. Vernon and Dessner waste no time kicking off with the best song, "Forest Green", a heartbreaking plea of a simple repeated "I was gonna give you more time / but I can't" which brings to mind a fan-fiction dream of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and 22, A Million meeting halfway. "Hymnostic" announces itself with a Nine Inch Nails-like distortion crunch before a classic Bon Iver piano figure transforms it entirely, and Vernon finally opens up his throat for some falsetto. Lyrically the song almost picks up where "33 GOD" left off, but whereas that song conflated a lover with a religious figure in an attempt to show the clumsy sincerity of love, "Hymnostic" flips the script with lines like "I am not an apparition / but I'll haunt you, you'll see ... I'll be singing for your health / I'll be righteous you'll see" having Vernon take on the spiritual role. But "Graditude" is the track which finds the most emotion inside Justin's cracked repetition. "well I better not fuck this up" starts things simply enough with an expression of self-doubt, but the sentiment mutates alongside the music, adding in a vicious "well you better not fuck this up while I'm away" and some truly baffling lines like "but I known a couple lovers, some were quarterbacks" I'm pretty sure are genuine jokes.

Just clicking the credits list on the website drops down enough big names to make an indie fan pinch themselves – Phoebe Bridgers, Bryan Devendorf, Bryce Dessner and Lisa Hannigan pop up at a quick glance. But this is no overstuffed indie supergroup where the styles of every artist fight for some breathing room, bar maybe "Lyla" where that's part of the fun. Big Red Machine is more a meditation. In concept it feels like "22 (OVER SOON)", a spacious reflection on time and mortality which, when you strip away the layers, is simply about a relationship. But Big Red Machine isn't as sad nor as isolated; inside its passages are corridors of warmth and total vitality, if you care to look.



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user ratings (46)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2018


40725 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

it's a National/Bon Iver project folks, how is this not huge here yet?



streaming link: https://beta.p-e-o-p-l-e.com/album/big-red-machine



(has credits, lyrics, studio diary and teases 6 more songs comin)

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2018


40725 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

and the artwork notes I made reference to:



https://peopleradio.imgix.net/4730c656079821f039f6f0cc3aba0305.jpg?w=1000&h=1000&fit=crop&crop=faces&auto=format

BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2018


2609 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Your final sentiment is perfect.

Digging: Pictureplane - Degenerate

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2018


23924 Comments


agreed last para sold me, this looks rly good Row

AsleepInTheBack
June 6th 2018


5871 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

damn, sounds loooovely. Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner AND Phoebe Bridgers. hype.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 6th 2018


28370 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

damn, another EPOTY candidate

Digging: Julia Holter - Aviary

DoofusWainwright
June 6th 2018


20001 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

On it

neekafat
June 6th 2018


12905 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This reminds me of some of Peter Gabriel's big gang-o-artists releases

NorthernSkylark
June 6th 2018


9030 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i keep closing the window i'm listening to because of.. habitual behaviour.



Digging: Bridget St John - Ask Me No Questions

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2018


40725 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

there's instrumental National b-sides up on the site now. Boxer, HV and SWB eras https://beta.p-e-o-p-l-e.com/album/songs-without-words



seriously this thing is a gift that keeps giving

DoofusWainwright
June 6th 2018


20001 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

has this got an official release date planned?

anatelier
June 6th 2018


2396 Comments


that's gotta be... THAT'S GOTTA BE KANE

Faraudo
June 6th 2018


2454 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

5/5

Digging: Muse - Simulation Theory

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 6th 2018


28370 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

4.3 is the perfect score for this. The first two songs are nice, but neither are as good as anything from 22, A Million. Gratitude and Hymnostic are both amazing and either would be a premium cut from any prior Bon Iver works. The combination of talent at work here is tantalizing, to say the least.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2018


40725 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Forest Green is straight up my SOTY so far tbh

MadKungFu
June 6th 2018


618 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is really heckn' ok. Stockholm syndrome for autotune just hasn't set in for me after all these years though

MadKungFu
June 6th 2018


618 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is really heckn' ok. Stockholm syndrome for autotune just hasn't set in for me after all these years though

YourDarkAffected
June 6th 2018


1832 Comments


According to Aaron Dessner’s IG, this is just 4 songs of 10, right?

BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
June 7th 2018


2609 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It seems that way, yes. I'm glad Rowan chose to cover it like this, though, fits into the project's theme of creating within the moment and being able to release music/art however and without formal constriction. Looking forward to the album.

DoofusWainwright
June 7th 2018


20001 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah this was pretty nice, bit bland. Only tracks 1 and 3 really felt like keepers for me.



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