Published Aug 12, 2019The story arc of Bon Iver is one of artistic struggle and triumph; Justin Vernon would find himself at an uncertain crossroads, and respond with a new and unprecedented creative feat.
It began with the lonely minimalism of For Emma, Forever Ago, continued with the lush maximalism of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and, after an extended absence involving personal deconstruction and rediscovery, last left off with the striking experimentalism of 22, A Million.
Now, closing a four-album chapter that evidently represents the four seasons, i,i melts down and re-forges all those elements that have made Bon Iver hard to pin down, yet instantly identifiable, this past decade. This is an album that's textured, impressionistic and as effortful as ever, blending acoustic and electric elements seamlessly in a way that's peaceful, weightless and brimming with life.
There are even some overt callbacks: "We" has the thumping groove of "Minnesota, WI"; "Marion" recaptures the sparse acoustics of For Emma; and "Hey, Ma" is a masterful sequel to the equally moving "Heavenly Father."
Vernon's writing is as obscured as ever, so loaded with complex, esoteric symbolism that it becomes not about text, but subtext — not about thought, but feeling. When the words themselves are impenetrable, their musical context affords a strange clarity — intangible, visceral. It's all underpinned with spirituality, from the crystal choir of "iMi" to the church hymn of "U (Man Like)" to the serenity and absolution of "RABi." It rings of faith, hope and bravery. It's about love and the politics of life, portrayed in the weird ways of a scattered, brilliant mind.
Granted, this record isn't as immediate as other Bon Iver works; it takes a little longer to reveal itself and fully take shape. But given the time to settle into the mind, it's rich and endlessly rewarding. i,i brings together Justin Vernon's evolving, career-spanning vision for Bon Iver into one satisfying, defining work. If this closes an arc in the Bon Iver story, it's impossible to say what comes next. But at this point, the possibilities really seem endless. (Jagjaguwar)