Almost a full decade ago, there was a compilation called Dark Was The Night that featured a host of the era’s defining indie artists. It was one of the National’s first forays into curating something that gathered a bunch of their friends and associates for exclusive music for charity — at two discs and benefitting the HIV/AIDs cause Red Hot, it was a (comparatively) smaller precursor to the sprawling Day Of The Dead box set they put together years later. And one of those unique collaborations on Dark Was The Night was a song called “Big Red Machine,” by the National’s Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon.
Over the years, the duo have partnered a bunch — including in starting Eaux Claires festival — and a full-fledged Big Red Machine project started to take shape by way of periodic live performances. In June, they unveiled another new project together (alongside Aaron’s brother Bryce), the artist collective PEOPLE, which aims to replicate the free-flowing, collaborative nature the Dessners and Vernon have tried to cultivate at various live events and festivals. (Including Eaux Claires, where Big Red Machine performed this year as well as in 2017.) When PEOPLE’s service launched, it featured four Big Red Machine songs, which turned out to be a precursor to a self-titled full-length.
Though Vernon stressed the amount of artists who contributed to Big Red Machine made it very much of a piece with PEOPLE, it’s hard to ignore the pedigree of him and Dessner teaming up for a whole album. (Those initial previews wound up being characteristically impressive, with “Gratitude” reigning over our favorite songs in the week it came out.)
Now, with Big Red Machine’s 8/31 release date fast approaching, they have unveiled another two new songs, called “Deep Green” and “I Won’t Run From It.” Combining glitchy electronics and sputtering guitar lines, “Deep Green” feels like a logical extension of both the last Bon Iver album and the last National outing. “I Won’t Run From It,” in comparison, begins with a roadworn indie-folk guitar before Vernon employs his gorgeous vocal overflow tricks all over it. Check them both out below.
Big Red Machine is out 8/31. Pre-order it here.