Bon Iver - i,i - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bon Iver - i,i

by Tim Sentz Rating:9 Release Date:2019-08-09
Bon Iver - i,i
Bon Iver - i,i

The time was 1 AM CST on August 8th, 2019. My wife woke me up to tell me that she was in the early stages of labor. Our first son was officially on his way. In all of the frantic preparation, I ran her a bath for soothing practices and managed to swipe open my phone for a few minutes of social media updating. Much to my surprise, Justin Vernon’s Instagram showed a new Bon Iver track, to which I gleefully exclaimed “honey! A new Bon Iver track!” as her contractions continued. She wasn't nearly as ecstatic as I was. 

As the day progressed, more and more tracks dropped until the afternoon when we had the full album i,i (pronounced “i comma i,” a node to a hashtag Vernon’s been promoting on IG for months). While my wife labored in pain for 14 hours, I was tagged out by the support team of hers to go get some lunch and take a break. It was at this time that I was finally able to delve into the follow-up to quite possibly the best and most important album of this decade 22, A Million (don’t @ me). The only other record that comes close to that accolade is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in my book. Justin Vernon is one of the most influential entities in music today and has a consistent output akin to the greatest songwriters in history. He’s dabbled in multiple projects like Volcano Choir, and Big Red Machine, and collaborated with Kanye West, Francis and the Lights, The Flaming Lips, Eminem, and even appeared on a Twilight Soundtrack. To say that Bon Iver isn’t a big deal is just ignorant. 

i,i is like nothing else Vernon has done, but also just like all of it. Focusing on a quartet to represent the seasons, i,i is the final installment: Autumn. For Emma, Forever Ago is the Winter record, and Bon Iver is the Spring record, leaving 22, A Million the Summer record. All of this is to sum up nicely the idea that Autumn is a catch-all season just like i,i. It can be excruciatingly hot like Summer, it can be bitterly cold like Winter, and it can be bright and sunshiny with a light breeze similar to Spring. It’s not a coincidence that i,i is the same thing - a combination of all of the last 3 albums into one record. Taking the warm and fractured elements of 22 and stirring it into the cold acoustics of For Emma, was the point. At this juncture, Bon Iver doesn’t really need to prove anything - those turned off by the electronic and autotuned predecessor will fall in love all over again with Vernon here. The fact that they can successfully and cohesively put all of these ideas and elements together seamlessly is astounding. 

As a matter of fact, there’s something for every type of Bon Iver fan. The full band exploits of Bon Iver can be felt on highlight “Faith,” and the snowy minimalism of For Emma runs through “Sh’Diah” beautifully. Much like Spiritualized’s supposed final album And Nothing Hurt, i,i is an ode to the fans who have been there since the beginning, but also the ones who joined in the middle and at the end. i,i is exactly the next step in the evolution of Bon Iver - it's warm and comforting, it’s cold and distant, and it’s hopeful and endearing just like all of the seasons bring. Autumn offers some reprieve from the drastic climate changes and onset of allergies, by offering crisp and cool mornings, pumpkin patches and warm cocoa, i,i does the same thing. 

There’s a wealth of highlights on i,i - “Naeem” is a fan favorite played live during Vernon’s Tu Dance collaborations last year, and here it elevates us with its instantly catchy gospel chorus “I can hear I can hear I can hear you crying.” It builds and builds so organically. “Holyfields,” is a throwback to Spring, walking through the fields of brush and dandelions - it’s a melody of rebirth “the dawn is rising,” and the track feels so improvised and spur of the moment that it shifts elegantly and naturally. Even songs that I felt were disposable singles like “Jelmore” and “U (Man LIke)” feel completely at home and part of the natural narrative at play here. Beautiful arrangements like “Hey Ma” feature some of Vernon’s most quotable sugarcane lyrics since For Emma and the combination of vocal styles from Vernon are endlessly pleasing. 

i,i literally could have been the first epic misfire of Bon Iver’s career. But instead, it’s possibly the one album that everyone can agree on as being wholesome and lovingly pieced together. It’s gigantic but compact, it’s experimental but catchy, it’s everything anyone could want from a Bon Iver record in 2019, and the fact that a band was able to deliver something so special to their fans with no strings attached is a testament to the artistry involved here. This record will forever soundtrack the day my son was born, obviously a coincidence, but it was a gift to hear that day, and a gift still today just like him. 

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