It’s a cold fall night, you’re walking home from work. You decide to throw on an album that has been attached to the phrase “Man you have to hear this.” You have some time on your hands until you make it through your front door and decide to go on a journey. Suddenly you find yourself walking slower and slower knowing that this experience is somehow re-wiring you on a molecular level. This was my second experience with the collaborative effort of Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner self titled Big Red Machine.
“I will lay laid open” perfectly sums up my frame of mind during this walk. Instantly I was hooked. As many great albums do, this resonated with the exact circumstance of my own experience at the time. It came by exactly when I needed it. I could feel the hypnotically looped drum patterns counterpointed by the sporadic melodies demanding more attention than I was able to give on my first listen.
Justin Vernon’s ‘melody first, lyrics also’ method of writing really stood out to me on each track. His voice at times feels more like another stringed or percussive instrument rather than a traditional vocal. He uses drastic auto tune as an instrument rather than a crutch to turn his voice into something different. It felt as though the primary intent was to put the listener into a certain set and setting. The sonic soundscape was the focus rather than the ideas the words are conveying. I came to that realization after I walked into a fire hydrant. I had been walking with my eyes closed. I regret nothing.
Continuing the theme of putting you into a space, the production on this record is impeccable. The idea of taking an intriguing, percussive and enthralling loop and just building layer upon layer is something I find really appealing. Each song introduces the theme that will be continuous throughout, then takes you in an entirely different direction as a guitar or piano motif grabs your attention then moves to the back. It’s an ever evolving, elliptical soundscape that puts you simultaneously into a space of profound love and loss. The theme of life and growth being ever-present and all encompassing.
In short, I love this album. It will forever be something I constantly have on deck if I can’t think of what to listen to. It came by exactly when I need it and did not disappoint.