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Album Review: How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? by Big Red Machine

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Big Red Machine is an indie folk/rock band consisting of Justin Vernon (or Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner from The National. While they first started collaborating in 2008, nothing serious came out of it until 2018 when they dropped their first self-titled project. After that, I expected that it would have been a one and done project. However, I was surprised to find out about their new project, How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?

The first track from the project is Latter Days. It opens up with some soft percussive beats and a piano part. After the thirty some second introduction, Anaïs Mitchell comes in with her vocals, which actually mix pretty well with Justin Vernon's falsetto vocals. While the instrumental doesn't really strike me as anything spectacular, the lyrics basically talk about the beginning of the whole virus and wondering how long this is going to last.
 
Reese starts to speed up the album a bit with some more electronic inspired drum parts. We also have an interesting piano that reminds me of something that Taylor Swift has done with her last two projects. I guess it makes sense though since both of them have worked with her on her last two albums. Other than that, we also have some other interesting guitar and saxophone parts sprinkled in here. Justin Vernon's vocals on here are perfect though, especially with the mood he's trying to go for with this track.
 
Phoenix was a track that I was looking forward to when it was announced since it featured Fleet Foxes and they have been on a hot streak recently. At first, the electronic introduction threw me off, but then it subsided for Robin's vocals. The instrumentals on this are hard to beat, especially with the brass section break after the first chorus. I'm not really sure how I feel about the mixing of Robin's vocals with Justin Vernon and Anaïs Mitchell though.
 
With how much Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner, and Taylor Swift have worked together recently, it's not surprising that Birch is one of the two tracks they released with her. You can definitely hear the sound that that the three of them have sort of 'solidified' over the past year and a half during the pandemic, minus the quick percussive beats. The quick percussive beat is actually from The National's drummer, Bryan Devendorf.
 
Renegade is the second track featuring Taylor Swift, and this was one of the promotional singles for the upcoming album. There's definitely a heavier Taylor Swift influence on here with her usual vocals, and it's more upbeat than the previous track. This track honestly feels like more of a Taylor Swift track since it's mainly her vocals for a good chunk of the track. Besides that, it's not a bad track, and she seems to talk about being in a relationship with someone with mental health issues.

The Ghost of Cincinnati is a heavily acoustic featured track that has Aaron Dessner on vocals for the first time on this project. It's definitely one of the more raw tracks from the project since we just have the guitar and him on here, but that's what usually evokes more emotion. He talks about a feeling that many of us have probably felt, especially with this past year and a half where people have been overworked and under appreciated.

Hoping Then brings back the usual instrumentation to the album. We have a few more electronic tidbits to start off the track though. We have some interesting warped and reverbed string effects, as well as some drum kicks thrown in. After about half a minute, the instrumentation starts to settle in and we have the vocals come in. According to Aaron Dessner, this was one of the last tracks that was produced for this project.

After that, we have Mimi which also marks the shortest track on the project since it's just under three minutes in length. This track just has such a different vibe compared to the previous track with the uplifting and happy acoustic strings layered on top. Even the vocals from Ilsey add that happiness on top of this one. This track is basically for Aaron Dessner and he wrote this song since he is grateful for his children.

Next, we have the longest track on the album, Easy to Sabotage, which is just under six minutes in length. It opens up quietly with just a few percussive beats and a guitar. However, we do get some other string instruments that eventually fade in and out throughout the track. While Justin and Aaron were unsure about putting this project on the record, they combined two live recordings and ended up putting them together. It actually works pretty well, so I'm glad they were able to put this on the record.

Hutch brings a lot of artists together for a huge track. The track opens up with some piano and guitar parts. However, the special part of the project is just with all of them singing together throughout the track. A lot of fans are pointing out the darkness and sadness in this track. They talk about losing your way with a friend and just starting to lose touch with them. Eventually, that friend may pass away and you'll never get them back.

8:22 comes in with some energetic drumkit loops. Eventually the piano and vocals come in which start to bring in more emotion and dampen the energy. I'm not really into the instrumental of this track since it seems all over the place, even though that's the sound they usually go for with Big Red Machine. Other than that, the lyrics just seem to talk about morning hours, such as when they were born, rain, or morning flights.

Magnolia is another track that opens up with a piano and the drumkit sounds. However, it does seem like we get more of Aaron Dessner's singing, mixed with Justin Vernon on this album. The instrumental is better formed than the previous track, but I wish I would get some more energy from this project. On this track, they focus on this person named Magnolia, and they're just hoping that this person is going to move on and get better.

June's a River brings Ben Howard and This Is The Kit into the mix of things. As I've said before, the instrumental is similar to what we've heard so far. A simple and repeated piano line with some underlying percussive notes. However, it is a change of vocals compared to what was brought to attention on the previous tracks. Other than that, this is definitely one of the more poetic tracks that they put together on the album.

Brycie brings back the folk-y and acoustic guitar sound to the album. While there are other parts to the track, I am really enjoying the many different layers of acoustic guitars brought on here. Also, with the title of the track, this was written for Aaron's twin brother (and bandmate) Bryce Dessner. Throughout the track, he talks about how he's always been there for him as well as how he supported him over the years.

The final track we have on the album is New Auburn, which also brings back Anaïs Mitchell. It also adds some sense of rawness with the "Rolling" sound clip at the beginning, but they could have done without it. At this point of the album, it's no surprise that the instrumental is similar and there aren't any changes. The vocals are fine, but I guess I would have expected something different to close the project out.

While I was excited for the project, I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. It definitely has a different vibe from their self-titled, and I still prefer that project over this one.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Reese, Phoenix, Renegade, Easy to Sabotage, Brycie
 
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