Big Red Machine: Big Red Machine review – funky and wise digital soul


Big Red Machine is the super-duo of Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, and Aaron Dessner of the National – plus a host of other names scattered across the credits including Phoebe Bridgers, This Is the Kit, and members of Arcade Fire and the Staves. It’s also the most high-profile fruit thus far from the People project, the duo’s online streaming portal for nimble sketches and collaborations – but any sense that this is minor work, just a bit of tooling about with your mates before a proper album, quickly evaporates.

The aesthetic is close to Bon Iver’s previous album 22, A Million – digital soul written with jangled nerves – and, as with that record, the busy arrangements draw their power from the simplicity of Vernon’s top lines. Like the soft-rockers he sometimes resembles, he draws from black styles such as porch-step blues and “quiet storm” R&B without it ever descending into bland appropriation, and on the stirring, scintillating trip-hop track OMDB, he even sounds like Atlanta rapper Future at his most hoarse and desperate.

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