Justin Vernon’s latest offering feels a world away from the introverted, self deprecating debut album released in 2007.
i,i – Bon Iver’s fourth studio album, is finally here, 3 years after the whirlwind success of ’22, A Million’. After 22… won a Grammy award for Best Alternative Album, it left many wondering whether Justin could keep evolving, and follow up the release with something better. So, has he? Well in some ways yes, and in some ways no.
Sonically, this album feels familiar. Diverse in sound structures and instrumentation, the album flows seamlessly from one polished composition to the next. Yet lyrically, the evolution of Vernon is clear to see, and perhaps this is the greatest success of i,i.
Vocals are delivered with more conviction, and self assurance, than anything else in Bon Iver’s discography to date. On tracks such as ‘Naeem’ and ‘iMi’, the vocals take centre stage, sounding brilliant as they do so.
In addition to a more assertive vocal performance, this album sees a few guests take centre stage, if only briefly. James Blake, Wye Oak, and Moses Sumney make appearances, amongst others. Arcing back to Justin’s debut, the abundance of guests is further proof of a willingness to be more open with his music.
The one criticism of this album is the often frustrating song structures. Perhaps this is a personal preference issue, however certain tracks, such as ‘Jelmore’ and ‘U (Man Like)’ feel one dimensional, and without any sense of direction.
Tracks such as Holyfields, leave you with a sense of wanting more, almost as if the song is unfinished, somehow. After a few listens I am still left with the same feeling – that i,i is brilliant and frustrating in equal measure.
Overall however, this is a solid album, and proof that Bon Iver is still evolving, which can only be positive. And whilst it doesn’t necessarily feel like a step forward from the Outstanding ’22, A Million’, that doesn’t mean that it’s a step backwards, either.