Bon Iver have always tapped into 'the big sad', Justin Vernon often creating work from a place of catharsis that has proved cathartic to many listeners. Many, many, so many listeners - his second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver (that I can't not sing to the tune of Father John Misty's 'I Love You, Honey Bear' every time I see those words) going to an astronomical place. Kanye collabs, lampooned in SNL skits... we've all heard about these moments.

These oh so many listeners and big-time setting thrust Justin into the spotlight for a soul that perhaps is not built for such attention; in a literal sense (being stopped in shops) and I don't doubt in a more intangible, abstract sense. A certain pressure, an understanding of who one is. The breakdown in Greece has been much mentioned in features and interviews in relation to the build-up to album three.

So Justin did what Justin does best; in response to a populist cathartic reaction to his music from a cathartic place comes a... yes that's right cathartic outpouring to this place in his life. Though it's more complex than that this time, obviously.

Bon Iver - Berlin

"My defence mechanisms had become so strong I had protected my entire self against the whole world... I sorted my life out so I couldn't feel any pain, but then I couldn't feel. Am I completely detached or have I evolved?"

The above quote I jotted down in a mad Eureka-esque moment from a podcast with Simon Amstell - please withhold your judgement. Accepting this baseline and getting to the next stage of thought-process is what 22, A Million explores, at least for me.

For those that have experienced depression, alienation, an existential crisis, any form of anxiety; this is for you. And many of you will be aware that there's not a single defining moment where you'll be free from everything, and the anxiety monster will be slayed and the credits will roll and we'll be light-footed and fancy free forever and fixed. If only oh boy! Haha hooo! It's an ongoing battle for many. It's akin to coming out - sure there can be a dramatic big moment or period of your life, but ask any LGBT person and it's a constant, never-ending process coz you know, it's a heteronormative world. And this is the grown-up position that 22, A Million inhabits, and frankly it's quite fucking beautiful and powerful.

It's recognising what's in front of you, and recognising the flaws you see in yourself/the world and that it's not necessarily okay and fine, but you are at least aware that this is indeed the case, and aware that the world and your place in it is a confusing, unnerving, and expansive place. And just perhaps, maybe, even embrace it. There's a delightful mystery to this album, in space that inhabits a question mark.

Christ and I haven't even mentioned the progression in sonic textures. Our reviewer described the transition from the first to second record as "by starting their second album this way, Bon Iver signaled that it wasn't going to simply stay within the musical lane that For Emma, Forever Ago was in." I'd argue that this new leap from the second album to this one is simply a different form of transportation entirely.

Bon Iver - Berlin

And so I found myself in Berlin for a very special "intimate show" - actually an intimate show, not a 'slightly smaller venue than an act would normally play', in fancy hotel courtyard - the Michelberger to be precise. Lol to be a guest that happened to have checked-in here that night and stumbled across this quite special event. And the new earthy sonic textures were evident from the very first noise that spiralized my ears via opening number '10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ '. The four members of Bon Iver set-up on a stage ostensibly facing each other to add a relaxed, informal air of a rehearsal, in the middle of a courtyard, so the audience was almost encircling them for a 360-degree experience.

All of 22, A Million was played in the set just shy of an hour in nearly the order of the album - apart from arguably the most well-known track from the album ('22 (OVER S∞∞N'). Classic Bon Iver. The album is full of subtle flaws - sound connections breaking and thus providing that somewhat revered 'raw' status, and this is somewhat mirrored live; a bundle of pedals, triggering devices, and generally smorgasbord electronic gear are spread across the stage, with the four on-stage dipping in and out of this sonic buffet. Raw, but in a controlled and astutely executed way. Justin himself seemed relaxed and confident, rocking and convulsing away at times with his guitar - providing an energy that one might not necessarily think about in a headphones album listen. A strong dynamic-range worked strongly in the set's favour - see the tense silences of '715 - CR??KS' for example.

Bon Iver - Berlin

And we need to talk about those manipulated vocals, used as an instrument of experimentation in their own right. This is something that can be so easy to get wrong and to be the incorrect side of jarring, and a grating live experience; in that Courtyard tonight it certainly was not, the various autotunes and disparate pitches soaring into the warm Berlin night sky above us. In fact when the only non-new album track got an airing ('Creature Fear' as the final track), I found the pure vocals almost a little flat when compared to the marvellous complexities and variance of the manipulated vocal numbers.

Being flown to Berlin for 24 hours was a jarring and joyous experience, hey just like the album amirite gang? The opening "It might be over soon" line has been heavily focused on, and the double-meaning of these five words; in regards to Bon Iver's set and the whole experience in general, it's more of with a tinge of sadness as opposed to relief that I connect with this line. It was all over too quickly. However chaotic and confusing my time there was - but hey that's something to be embraced right? The album and this experience is not something that will ever tame that little bastard of my anxiety monster, but these tiny fragments of relatable experiences in art/music/life do provide some crumbs of comfort and sporadic relief, tbh.

Bon Iver - Berlin