- Curtis Saunders
Bon Iver - i,i
After ‘22, A Million’, it was hard to know where Bon Iver were going to go next. There was a drastic shift in sound since the self-titled project, with more glitchy production & demonic effects scattered all over the tracks. It’s a dark album on the whole.
So when they announced the release of ‘i,i’, all options were possible. After ‘22, A Million’, it was hard to know where Bon Iver were going to go next. There was a drastic shift in sound since the self-titled project, with more glitchy production & demonic effects scattered all over the tracks. It’s a dark album on the whole.So when they announced the release of ‘i,i’, all options were possible.
‘Hey, Ma’ (one of the first singles released from the album) is a song that will go down in Bon Iver’s discography as a classic, chanted at festivals with the same melancholic warmth as ‘Skinny Love’. It’s probably the most accessible in the track-list, but that doesn’t stop it from standing out.
Justin Vernon’s vocals on ‘iMi’ are similarly reminiscent of past Bon Iver works, especially towards the end with the super sweet line, “I like you, and that ain’t nothin’ new”. It carries that same tenderness you can find on previous releases such as ‘Holocene’. The keys followed with what sounds like ocean waves washing back & forth; it’s sensitive, soulful and scenic.
‘We’ is probably as dark as this album gets, with Justin’s vocals wavering in between chest-voice and his iconic falsetto, all on top of a choppy drum beat & sinister piano chords. It slides effortlessly into the socially critical hopelessness of 'Holyfields' as this pair of tracks provide a melancholy rest bite before the album bends over a new horizon.
The song ‘Naeem’ has become an instant fan-favourite, and it’s not hard to see why. It builds gorgeously, with “I can hear, I can hear crying” climbing its way up the scale. It’s incredibly catchy, highly emotional, and could even be compared to something from the likes of James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Post Tropical’.
When Bon Iver initially dropped ‘Jelmore’, I was torn. I enjoyed it, but not enough to choose to ever play it at random. However, in context with the album, it sort of acts as a lace tying the whole project together, slotting itself right in the middle. It reminds me that Bon Iver are a band for album listening experiences as opposed to radio singles. It’s extremely minimal & skeletal, which proves they haven’t completely left the vibe of ‘22, A Million’ in the dust.
‘Marion’ is a song that Bon Iver has been playing for many years at shows, so major fans will be excited to finally have the studio version show up here. And it’s beautiful. It’s one of the more solemn sounding tunes on ‘i,i’, with a traditional folk instrumental and classic Justin vocals crying over it. It’s almost meditative.
The track ‘Sh’Diah’ reminds me a lot of ‘8 (circle)’ from the previous record. It’s a hearty ballad that begs to belong in an arena. The sax swells achingly and the synth is sparse & twinkly.
Then there’s my favourite on the album, the closing song, ‘RABi’. If you’ve ever been into camping and spending nights around a fire with friends in the woods, this one’s for you. Once you listen to it a couple of times, it’s stuck in your head for the rest of time. It’s an introspective guitar-driven ballad about gratitude & living in the moment. “It’s all just scared of dying, but isn’t this a beach”? The perfect ending for an album about reflection on yourself and on life.
This new record shows Bon Iver in a new light, a happier light. It’s a welcome tonal shift in the band’s discography, and an exciting change of pace. If ‘i,i’ is a sign of things to come for Bon Iver, then the future is looking good.