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Ahh these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves. Big Red Machine is a collaborative record between Bon Iver Sadboy 2.0 Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, songwriter and guitarist in The National. Dessner seems to be at the desk on this one, while Vernon's doubling down on his 808s And Heartbreaks-in-a-forest thing. It won’t come as a surprise for us to tell you that Big Red Machine’s self-titled debut LP is the most earnest album ever made.

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Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine
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8/10 Robin 29 August 2018

The indie rock transfer window is closing and we’re talking last gasp deals: the National have agreed to loan out humble guitarist-producer Aaron Dessner to pastoral emo titan Justin Vernon. Could a more 2011 collaboration possibly exist? In Big Red Machine, the big boys of being-an-adult existentialism make a record of evocative loop-scapes, countryside matrix glitches and gorgeous auto-tuned lamenting. I was prepared to hate it, but as with everything these serene bastards release, it is lovely.

For those who want an easier point of access to Justin Vernon’s more recent excursions into experimental electronics, this might be your way: the bombastic beat of “Gratitude” proves an early winner, setting down a bold marker for Dessner’s lovely guitar loop to interface with. Between the layers Vernon starts full on emoting, his hands up in the air as he moves between hums and hollers. “Forest Green” is a lovely tune of abstracted twang and twinkling piano, the drums shuffling alongside Vernon’s heartbroken aphorisms which feature the kind of soft autotune used on a Post Malone single. The whole thing is simple and palatable; without the usual verbosity of a National tune or the recent schisms of a Bon Iver album, the duo sound happier than ever to just say what they feel. With a shrug, with a sigh, this record feels as simple as they can make it.

Suppose I should mention that the PEOPLE project Big Red Machine are pulling this material from includes collaborations with indie rock namedrops like Richard Reed Perry (ostensibly one of the Arcade Fire rabble) and the ever excellent Lisa Hannigan. Ultimately, though, the narrative of this being a Dessner/Vernon collaboration really fits: tunes like “I Won’t Run For It” sound like the perfect distillation of both sounds, and where they crossover: where the soft, humble indie rock becomes an overflowing fanfare of ideas and emotion.

For fans of... those guys.



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