In 2009, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National came together to record "Big Red Machine," an original song for Dark Was the Night, a charity album helping the Red Hot Organization fight HIV and AIDS. In 2016 during the Michelberger Music Series in Berlin, the duo began writing more music together which would eventually become a full-length album, also called Big Red Machine.
Over these past couple of years, Dessner and Vernon have also begun shaping a music collective called People with Aaron's brother Bryce, featuring other members of The National and a plethora of other musicians. Many of those artists are featured heavily on Big Red Machine, including Phoebe Bridgers on the track "Lyla," as well as Lisa Hannigan, Bryce Dessner, and Bryan Devendorf.
Big Red Machine feels like a mashup of Bon Iver and The National, making for a very unique and unconventional album. Songs such as "Gratitude" and "Lyla" sound like they would fit on Bon Iver's most recent album, 22, A Million, while others such as "Forest Green" and "Melt" sound like material from The National's latest LP, Sleep Well Beast. Vernon and Dessner make them work together.
Songs such as "I Won't Run From It" should please fans of early Bon Iver albums with its acoustic guitar melody, but sound out of place on this album, surrounded by more synth-focused, electronic songs. "Hymnostic" also sounds similar to Bon Iver's earlier work, but with electronic distortion and whirring in the background putting a modern spin on a classic gospel-tinged folk ballad.
Big Red Machine often feels like a missing link between For Emma, Forever Ago, and Vernon's more experimental 22, a Million while including the aesthetics of The National's Sleep Well Beast and earlier work. The album favors a diverse array of sounds and styles instead of a cohesive whole, which can be a bit jarring at times — especially into "Air Stryp." Each song has its own merits, and they often reach beautiful moments as these artists push themselves into creative areas they are still exploring.
Our favorite songs are "Gratitude," "Lyla," "Hymnostic," "Forest Green," "I Won't Run From It," and "Melt."