Justin 'Bon Iver' Vernon is one of the artists who continues to push the art of autotune forward alongside the likes of Future and Charli XCX. He applies his craft to an incredibly earnest indie-folk that has steadily been taking over the world. i, i is likely an allusion to second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver and has more than enough heart to match that wonderful record.
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Bon Iver's new album 'i, i' begins in a far more comforting way than 2016's alien masterpiece '22, A million'. A voice, presumably Vernon's, asks "are you recording, Trevor?" amidst the clicks and pops of microphones being moved around. Compare this to the tremulous synths and chipmunk vocals on '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' which seem to revel in alienating the listener, especially one still in thrall with the winsome folk sounds of Bon Iver's landmark debut record 'For Emma, Forever Ago'.
Bon Iver's transition from sadcore lumberjack to weird glitchy electronic pioneer has been one of the great volte faces of modern music and this continues here, on his fourth album. It's an album that sounds like it needed to be made. Vernon directs equally intense energies from darkness towards light. Although 'i, i' doesn't carry the same emotional and sonic weight of its predecessor, it's still an amazing achievement and proof that this volte face was not insincere. Although dissimilar in sound, it has the feel of an album like 'Ye' which followed the deeply dislocated 'Yeezus' and 'The Life of Pablo'.
The lyrics are one of the most striking elements of this record. There's lots of self-determination and self-referencing, not in a bold and brash Kanye West way, but a way that's personal yet inclusive. The title 'i, i' seems a way of Vernon saying this is who I am. The dislocated self of '22, A million', with its magical realism and strange, disturbed lyrics has been replaced by something simpler like "I like you" or the marvellous 'Hey Ma'. I'd almost forgotten about that guy Bon Iver who can write songs. This is all supported by the relative absence of vocal processing. It doesn't feel like a more direct record, but like a record that is more comfortable with itself.
Although 'i, i' still has the feel of a sonic collage, with many intricate gem-like pieces studded into each song, as well as all manner of original textures and sounds, these are tempered by melodies and arrangements that are, to use a word Vernon used to describe this album, generous. Like all Bon Iver albums there are a few key moments which can just floor you, such as the way Vernon sings "if it's all that you don't do" on 'Holyfields' or the beautifully written piano part on 'U (Man Like)'.
The most exciting thing about 'i, i' is that I get the feeling it's a precursor to what could be Vernon's magnum opus, a culling of everything superfluous and a crystallising of everything beautiful and good, sugar.
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