Big Red Machine review: Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner hit sweet spot

Fri, Aug 31, 2018, 05:00


Big Red Machine

Big Red Machine



Justin Vernon is a fascinating figure. The multi-instrumentalist and singer has applied his Midas touch at everything from fronting Bon Iver to being Kanye West’s go-to man when he needs some distinctive warbling to beef up his sprawling albums.

Now, Vernon turns to an intriguing collaboration with Aaron Dessner of The National. It’s heartening to hear that Big Red Machine is a much better side-project than most in both its genesis and execution. This double act was born out of a collaborative compilation, Dark Was the Night, on 4AD in 2009, when Dessner and Vernon joined forces on the track Big Red Machine, which they interpreted as a human heart.

They’ve run with the idea, founded the streaming platform PEOPLE, and hosted an all-star show in Berlin’s legendary Funkhaus. The songs are impeccably crafted, as they’ve been honed in studios and stages all over the world, including the Sounds from a Safe Harbour shindig in Cork.

Their debut offering certainly doesn’t disappoint, as it is crammed with good ideas, innovative sounds and Vernon’s familiar and always fantastic voice, plus a little help from a cast of guests including Lisa Hannigan. Dessner has lauded the project as “definitely some of my favourite music I’ve ever made, in any context.” On this evidence, he deserves to throw that little bouquet to himself.