Bon Iver
i,i


4.1
excellent

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
August 11th, 2019 | 352 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Every daemon decoded, every day de-numbered

A note about Bon Iver's song titles. There's been more silly griping about the Aphex Twin impenetrable thing than was perhaps necessary – I am as guilty of this as any of us – but it struck me listening to "iMi" and realising what those letters meant that there's a straightforward reason for all that crypticism. Justin Vernon wants to confuse and disarm your higher thinking so his music will go straight to the heart, which is the place from where he wants you to hear it.

As such, for all i,i's initial chaos, there are shockingly simple axes on which these songs turn. So while "iMi" seems a direct descendant of 22, A Million's fragmented aesthetic and "We" plays like a cut from an alternate universe where Bon Iver and Kanye made a rap group, the album unfurls into something gentler with "Hey, Ma" and largely stays that way. "Naeem" is not only a clear highlight and one of the best songs Vernon has composed, it kicks off a song cycle which seems to investigate the major thematic concerns of the Bon Iver project – love ("Marion"), responsibility and accountability ("U" and "Jelmore") and uh, "Faith" - as straightforwardly as the self-titled album catalogued places he'd been. There's some politics, a less-trodden area for Bon Iver but communicated with grace: "Sh'Diah", a very Bon Iver anagram for 'shittiest day in American history', takes three years of anger and disenfranchisement, far too potent to be summed up in any words, and lets a saxophone do the talking instead. Vernon's degree in religious studies would qualify him to write about the subject more than most in the scene, but that always comes subservient to his own beautifully expressed ambivalence. And while nothing here cuts to the bone as cleanly as "I'm still standing in the need of prayer", the harmonisation of hope and doubt when Vernon writes about religion is still second to none, as when "Faith" puts aside the higher questions and rips your heart out with a line: "and do we get to hold what faith provides? Fold your hands into mine".

There's no more obvious signal of Bon Iver's progression as a project than, well, its literal evolution into a band. For Emma purists lament the loss of intimacy of that album; a connection made by Vernon's recording in a cabin that has, somewhat ridiculously, become an honest-to-god indie myth and not just four walls and a roof where he recorded some really good songs. Truth is, none of that intimacy has gone, just the direction it's flowing has changed. Bon Iver today has traded that one-to-one, man-to-listener intimacy for the many-to-many intimacy shared between Vernon's circle of collaborators. Just hear the way that acoustic in "Marion" plays off six-piece horns recorded basically live; how "iMi" slams together a brass freakout, some James Blake wildness (vocal and instrumental) and that peaceful hook from Justin; when that fucking beat drops on "Faith"; or "Holyfields," a near-improvisation which achieves greatness when a simple violin transforms the song.

Even if the album at points can drift too far into the abstract, there is a final exhale to ground us once again. "RABi" is the most unvarnished Bon Iver's been since 2009, and not just musically, though the electric guitar strum is so relaxing it gives "Island in the Sun" a run for its money. But the lyrics could be a personal note addressed from Vernon to his audience without even a hint of artistic intervention. "Well it's all just scared of dying", he basically sums up Bon Iver, the anxieties romantic and spatial and religious that have plagued him since the beginning of this project - then defines i,i's response to these with one more line: "well it's all fine and we're all fine anyway". This album plays as the sober morning after 22, A Million's headspin of a night out, the moment after waxing rhapsodic about the mysteries of life, death and religion when you fold your clothes and get on with the damn day. In this way, it's a refutation of its predecessor as much as "these will just be places to me now" was a moment of closure to Bon Iver, Bon Iver's travelogues, themselves a conscious evolution from the singular place and time which birthed For Emma, Forever Ago. Justin Vernon may be uniquely talented in mixing disparate sounds into one package, but he can only do so by burning some bridges and salting the earth as he goes – leaving previous selves behind him on the way. This tricky, fickle, strange dedication to emotional progress is what defines Bon Iver, makes them so uniquely, irrefutably human, and so goddamn touching even when you can't understand what a single lyric means.

"But on a bright fall morning, I'm with it
I stood a little while within it"



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user ratings (187)
Chart.
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 11th 2019


42371 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1 | Sound Off

hard album to review. maybe that means it's good? I don't know anymore

Digging: Strange Ranger - Remembering the Rockets

PistolPete
August 11th 2019


5022 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Did you have to fight Sowing for the ability to review this? Lol is he sitting in the corner somewhere with his arms crossed and a massive frown?



Review is excellent btw. I always like how you balance talking about the music itself equally with what you think it’s trying to convey and communicate.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 11th 2019


42371 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1 | Sound Off

it was a brutal race to the dib and ngl some feelings were likely hurt. however he'll get even with me by rocking up with a far superior review in a few days time I'm sure!



thank you tho. appreciate the words

DoubleDD
August 11th 2019


58 Comments


Couple of keepers on this

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
August 11th 2019


18661 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Great review Rowan!

I like the vibes they went for even if there're some less than impressive moments, but like the new National, most of it is excellent and I appreciate all the layering and atmospheric flourishes. "Sh'Diah" is absolutely stunning.

Digging: Bon Iver - i,i

MarsKid
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2019


9819 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Nicely done my man. "This album plays as the sober morning after 22, A Million's headspin of a night out, the moment after waxing rhapsodic about the mysteries of life, death and religion when you fold your clothes and get on with the damn day" was a fun line.



I disagree, but you've made a good argument here.

Digging: The Offering - Home

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2019


7848 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Man this review is so friggin great bud



Album continues to grow on me and confound me in equal measure. I will say after the initial shock of the fragmented songwriting (I still steadfastly assert this is more experimental than 22, though mostly all in the first half) there’s a very discernible and touching openness to this thing emotionally that is pretty compelling

Digging: Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend

luci
August 11th 2019


11484 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

we’ve converged to the same rating, this grows off me with each listen

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 11th 2019


31903 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

Excellent review Rowan. This album isn't on the same level as his first three which pains me to say, but the dude is still in a class of his own. Faith, iMi, and Holyfields are breathtaking. It's a little too much more 22 a Million/Big Red Machine, would have liked to see a little more creativity, but he's still the Radiohead of indie folk so who am I to complain.

Digging: Off With Their Heads - Be Good

DoubleDD
August 11th 2019


58 Comments


I want to give this a 3 but then I'm actually feeling sorry for the predecessor which is def a 3 and is a little better than this

That is muh dilemma

CosmicPie
August 11th 2019


1658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Choo, I rated the last one 4.5. Love it. Sounds like I'll feel similar with this one.

Lord(e)Po)))ts
August 11th 2019


43534 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Part of me feels like vernon is a bit desperate to rid himself of the depressing solemn reputation he made for himself early in his career and has begun overcompensating a little bit to come across as less self-serious. I kinda liked his last alb but some of the experimentation and conceptualization felt so unnatural, which is how I feel about the obnoxiously “spirited” moments on this one.

Digging: Evan Geesman - Newagesewage

DoubleDD
August 11th 2019


58 Comments


was never convinced by him being heartbroken and emotionally devastated...not convinced with him being spiritual and upbeat

the middle emotional ground is your friend Verno

CosmicPie
August 11th 2019


1658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Eh, but that's how being riddled with depression and anxiety actually is. You awkwardly try every which way to get out before you give in.



I haven't heard this yet, though. So I can't connect the dots.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2019


7848 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Wahhhhh wahhhhh cunty cunt bollocks wah-Zak’s sole contribution to the site

DoubleDD
August 11th 2019


58 Comments


at least you bring pecs

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2019


7848 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m a consummate people pleaser

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 11th 2019


31903 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

"Did you have to fight Sowing for the ability to review this? Lol is he sitting in the corner somewhere with his arms crossed and a massive frown?"

IT'S ALL JUST SO STUPID OK CAN WE NOT TALK ABOUT IT JEEZ UGH

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
August 11th 2019


7848 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lmao

dmathias52
August 11th 2019


726 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beautiful, beautiful review. I get the gripes that people have with the album for sure, but I love the joyful noise. I actually read a review that negatively referred to it as a hippie commune of music, which I think perfectly describes why I love it

Digging: Tyler Childers - Country Squire



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