Review: Bon Iver – i,i

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With a mixture of both reminiscent and new sounds, Bon Iver continue to showcase their seemingly endless talent and ability with i,i.

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If their three previous studio albums are anything to go off, Bon Iver’s fourth studio album i,i would not be anything less than perfect. After its early release on the 8th of August, it is clear that Bon Iver have succeeded once again in creating something entirely unique, intriguing and wonderful that will most definitely imprint and transform indie music as we know it.

Bon Iver’s first studio album, For Emma, Forever Ago certainly made its mark in indie folk music in 2008, with its soothing melodies impressing many across the world. With the mention of Bon Iver, one might go straight to thinking of ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘For Emma’, both displaying relatively usual features of folk rock. However, this image of Bon Iver as a band has been entirely transformed over the past 11 years, most notably after the release of 22, A Million in 2016, which (alongside acting as a comeback after an 8-year hiatus) redefined their position in the musical field, with its quirky, experimental timbres.

With this new release, it seems Bon Iver are still not quite ready to settle into a genre-defining box, and i,i proves that they are happy to continue to experiment with timbres, pitches and rhythm within their music. This is most notable in ‘We’, which features some interesting, but nonetheless wonderful, chaotic brass moments, alongside some beautiful portamento in Justin Vernon’s vocals. ‘Naeem’ is also a perfect example of the musical progressions Bon Iver have made as a band over the years. Far from the soothing vocals evident in Bon Iver (2011), this song truly utilises Vernon’s voice as a tool to build-up the emotion, with his raspy shouts within the verses effectively adding power to the song. The gradual ascending melody for the choral ‘I can hear crying’, coupled with the intensely repetitive percussion, is extremely catchy, and extremely beautiful – definitely one to blast out speakers as loud as you can.

‘Holyfields’ is one of my favourites from the album, due to the experimental echoes used throughout, and the build-up of vocals which is brought to a sudden stop at the end of the chorus. Its repetitive vocal melody makes for an extremely catchy tune, and really showcases Vernon’s impressively wide tessitura. Vernon’s mastery of vocals is also demonstrated in ‘Sh’Diah’, which perfectly exemplifies his ability to reach very high ranges to create the most soothing melodies.

‘Marion’ is a song which seems to stand out like a sore thumb on this album, but not in a bad way. Its treatment of timbres is much more uniform than the rest of the album in its folk-like style, and it is very reminiscent of their work from For Emma, Forever Ago with its hypnotising harmonies. Although the overriding vibe of this album is very experimental, there are definitely some other hints to their older work; the beautiful piano section of ‘U (Man Like)’ is very reminiscent of ‘Wash.’ from their self-titled second studio album, Bon Iver. This proves the endless extent to Bon Iver’s talent in their ability to create something so different yet subtly familiar all at once.

Overall, i,i acts as a perfect example to demonstrate just how talented, adaptable and unique Bon Iver are as a band. With its reminiscent hints to their older work coupled with some fascinating explorations of timbre, there really is something for everyone on this album.

Bon Iver’s i,i is available now via Jagjaguwar.

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