Bon Iver was graced with indie darling status quickly after the release of their debut album For Emma, Forever Ago and praise for the group has not slowed down. Justin Vernon and his crew have transitioned away from the more purely folk sound into more experimental territory and have embraced an easily recognizable glitchy production sound. Vernon has proved himself an artist that can make whatever music he wants to with great results. i,i is a further example of Vernon’s genreless virtuosity.
Vernon has already proved himself to be a master of mixing genres. He doubles down on this in the opening track “iMi” mixing the usual acoustic folk elements with electronic elements and even trap influences in some of his voicings and uses of triplets.
“Hey, Ma” could have been in 22, A Million. The song has the most mainstream appeal of the album. With an actual chorus, structure, and consistent production, the song proves itself to really have been the best choice for the album first single, easing Bon Iver fans into the even more experimental sound of i,i. “U (Man Like)” is the happiest sounding Bon Iver track ever. With multiple singers and a staccato piano line, the song feels like a true American folk song, made to be sung around a campfire while slightly intoxicated.
“Faith” is a track that calls back to Vernon’s folk roots. A relatively calm track with Vernon’s glitchy production in the backseat. The song’s melody isn’t diluted in a sea of sound but stands out in a tight sounding wave. “Marion” is primarily an acoustic guitar track. Playing on Vernon’s forte of harmonies and simple but full guitar lines. Horns enhance the melodies and harmonies, calling back to the sound of 22, a million’s calmer tracks. “Salem” ‘s jumpy synth lead pairs well with Vernon’s higher register singing. The drums in the track help carry the track along as more and more instrumentation comes in.
“Naeem” pulls from gospel music and hip hop, reminding the listener of Vernon’s collaborations with Kayne West. From the hook “I can hear people crying” to the song’s grandiose buildup, the song sounds like a plea for help. “RABi” minimal stripped back instrumentals carry the track along with Vernon’s most powerful vocals of the record.
“We” sounds like a mismatch of sounds, getting muddy at parts and not playing well of each other.“Jelmore” is underwhelming. With more mismatch synths leading the track to the same place it started. The ending leaves much to be desired as the song just fades into oblivion.
“Holyfields,” repetitive beat manages to not be incredibly intrusive while still creating a trance-like atmosphere. Random white noise filtering in and out sounds like driving in and out of tunnels with your windows down. Song has no structure and sounds like free thought. “Sh’Diah” is a mellow track with Vernon’s vocals blending into the soft synth pads that lead the track. A sax solo towards the end brings a bit more of an interesting melody to the track that is otherwise just okay.
Standout Tracks: Hey Ma, Marion, Faith, U (Man Like)