Bon Iver’s fourth album i,i is a whirlwind 39 minutes of eccentric production and deeply personal songwriting. Justin Vernon has appeared to truly master the art of subtle artistry, confirming his status as a modern gem of the music industry and further bulking his legacy with a candid victory lap of an album.
Divine intervention, that’s what comes to mind when you first immerse yourself into the world of Bon Iver. Justin Vernon is one of this century’s pioneering minds in the world of ambience and melodic music, transforming from acoustic folk to rich production and mind-bending aesthetics. i,i may not be as technically complex or off-the-wall as its predecessor 22, A Million but it certainly serves a vital purpose in telling Justin’s story.
As is the case with every Bon Iver record, i,i is meticulously structured and layered, ensuring that each track is placed in the ideal place for the all-encompassing journey the sound takes you on. The singles fit like a glove into the captivating experience of the album, sounding just as good if not better when heard within the project’s full context. It is as triumphant and focused as Bon Iver have ever sounded.
What fascinates me most about this album is how it manages to continually surprise you, there is a telling amount of versatility sonically while thematically staying razor-sharp with focus on the overriding ideas. Nostalgia is a key theme of the record but it is performed in a futuristic way, Justin Vernon just knows how to uplift his audience as well as getting them to ponder things on a more intense spiritual level.
The blissful atmosphere that surrounds the majority of this album is one to admire, whether that come in the form of Justin’s vocals on tracks like Salem and Hey, Ma or from the abstract production on Jelmore and iMi. If I were to epitomise this project in one sentence, it would be that I have never heard Justin Vernon so at peace with himself and his craft. He is doing things musically that are challenging, the more avant-garde the better when it comes to the world of Bon Iver.
His humble beginnings in that Wisconsin cabin seem a million miles away, he has now built a fully-fledged community to create this body of work. The richness of the numerous minds behind it just adds to the special element of i,i; particularly from well-respected industry names like James Blake and Moses Sumney. The whole album’s sound and aurora leaves you with no surprise as to why Bon Iver are idolised by such a vast number of the world’s biggest artists; namely the likes of Kanye West, who is well-documented in his adoration of Vernon’s work.
To try and summarise i,i is difficult. It isn’t as outright bonkers and experimental as 22, A Million was; but it certainly isn’t as stripped back and subtle as For Emma, Forever Ago was. It is a sprinkle of both extravagance and modesty, a humble boast if you will. One thing it absolutely is too, is another fantastic addition to the Bon Iver catalogue; one of the warmest listens you’ll find all year as well as being one of the most technically proficient (not that that will come as a surprise to many).
Favourite tracks: iMi; Holyfields,; Hey, Ma; Naeem; Faith; Salem