Bon Iver - i,i
Aug 9, 2019
Bon Iver's epic conclusion to his seasonal album cycle finds Justin Vernon finally filling the deep crater he carved out years ago. What makes this album so satisfying is the emotional and sonic growth of Vernon over four albums. Bon Iver used to be one guy in a cabin in Wisconsin singing about his ailing life. Now, a community joins Vernon, producing an incredible record that reflects fondly on Bon Iver's best characteristics while never reverting to past ideas. It's not that the anxieties that fostered his previous work have disappeared. Instead, i,i is the acknowledgment that bruises last but don't define us. We can always move forward, girded with the wisdom gained from past experiences.

Vernon presented i,i as the seasonal conclusion to a four-part album cycle that begins with his debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Icy and empty, For Emma is Vernon's blistering discussion of loss and pain. Justin's gorgeous wail cracked your soul and ached with heavy sorrow. On his self-titled work, Bon Iver's sound took root and grew into epic orchestral swells. The music on this record is almost nauseatingly gorgeous. Justin's voice still aches, but a lush world of instrumentation surrounds him. This album grounded Bon Iver in locations, giving his heart-break a physical space. Finally, Vernon's most experimental album, 22, A Million, force the saplings sounds of BI into a digital cacophony. Filled with samples and glitchy beats, Vernon searches for new modes of beauty and connection to others. His team grew even larger as Vernon relied on others to help him find these sounds. The albums are stylistically different but are connected by Vernon's incredible singing voice. He acts as the guiding protagonist, searching for meaning in an ever-shifting universe.

i,i successfully reflects on all of these albums while never sounding derivative of what made each unique. There are spindly guitar melodies, lush orchestral passages, and electronic beats all jostled next to one another. What's incredible is how natural these differing sounds piece together. These songs burst and twist and swell while always remaining gorgeous and cathartic. All the techniques Vernon has learned to produce deep, and personal music become unified into a genre all to himself. It's an epic sonic journey that feels like a natural and healthy growth from his isolated beginnings.

This progression functions within the lyrics as well, as i,i is easily Vernon's most hopeful and forward-thinking record. While his words are often difficult to discern, Vernon's phrasing is slightly more accessible on this record. The first single, 'Hey Ma,' has the cute refrain about checking in on your mother. It's a surprisingly thoughtful and straightforward sentiment, one that feels quite different than the dark, somber lyrics of For Emma. Vernon's focus has changed. His interest is less on his depression, but his connections and the people he loves. It's a radical shift coming from the king of sad music. It would feel jarring if Vernon's voice didn't fit so well within the sound. His icy wail transforms into a triumphant cry. He still sounds like he is on the verge of tears, but they are derived from a different emotion. I can't help but get a little choked up at his progression as a musician and his personal growth.

Vernon's epic concludes in the Fall, which implies that we are returning to the start of the seasonal cycle. Instead of recoiling to the wintery solitude of his debut, Vernon returns to the same season an entirely new person. 'If you wait, it won't be undone,' Vernon repeats on the final song, 'RABi.' Instead of wallowing in trauma, he moves forward and processes his experiences. What I love is that Justin doesn't reject these earlier albums, but presents them as natural steps in the process of healing. You need to tear out your heart to start something new. The method of recovery is arduous and takes time. It took twelve years for Vernon to reach this point, and he seems ready to lead others through the same journey.

Bon Iver has been one of my spiritual guides through my entire musical journey. As a teen, I loved the isolation For Emma offered. In college, BI was a safe space, an object of beauty in my continually shifting circumstances. The feeling of dislocation that saturates 22, A Million echoed my narrative of moving away from home for the first time. While each step of this process has been challenging, I have grown so much since that starting point. Bon Iver's music has been a constant and welcoming presence throughout this process. Vernon has felt like a spiritual companion, offering guidance during my darkest times. It's comforting to hear an artist I respect so much find solace in his community. i,i was not the album I expected; it's far more realized and thoughtful than I could have imagined.

Justin Vernon did not 'Game of Thrones' his conclusion. By reflecting on his past while facing the future, Bon Iver rounded out his narrative into a near-perfect sonic odyssey. The growth and progression from one artist in Wisconsin to an entire world feels natural and well-deserved. It's a stunning object that shows how we can learn from our experiences to live a better life in the future. Seasons change, and people leave. While it may feel like the world is over, you can move forward without losing sight of where you've been. You can go back into the winter with new knowledge and brace for whatever comes next.

Thank you, Justin. This one really got me.
Aug 9, 2019
biggest, warmest, deepest oooooooooooof
Sep 2, 2019
Amazing review man
Liked By
More Reviews by musicmagpie55
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