Review: Bon Iver Releases Most Complete & Thoughtful Album Yet In 'i,i'

The album was released three weeks early.
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Bon Iver i,i Cover Art

Bon Iver just released his album…..three weeks early? The band’s new album i,i was announced last month with a release date for August 30, but on Thursday morning, the group started uploading videos and song details to Twitter. That was followed by it going up on streaming services in the form of a playlist. Now today, the album is live in a complete album form with the songs in the correct order. Artists are sometimes forced to release their music early because of a catastrophic leak, a distribution issue or some other issue with a label, but there is no indication that this is the case here. Maybe Bon Iver just got tired of waiting and wanted this thing out there.

After a short intro, Bon Iver dives right into a collaboration between the band and James Blake, which feels like a perfect mix of the two artist’s sound. James Blake’s soft wailing matches the gentle crooning from Justin Vernon as they provide plenty of room for each other.

When the album was announced, Vernon said that this was his most adult and complete album. It was also the end of a cycle of LPs designed for each season: winter of For Emma, Forever Ago, then the spring of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the summer of 22, A Million and fall with i,i. This makes it even more curious that the release date was pushed up if fall is still at least a month away.

The album has a bit of a different energy from his previous albums, but doesn’t stray far from what they have built over the past decade. He brings together the elements that have made him so popular over the past decade.

The sometimes-inscrutable lyrics tell a story of a man who is more mature but also dealing with the same problems that plague us all. He deals with the passage of time, mentioning his kids growing old on the emotional, sad and somehow hopeful “Naeen." As you try to hold back tears on the hook, he also seems emotionally overwhelmed by the end of the song.

The production comes from a wide variety of artists, but it feels very focused. They help back up his falsettos with soft percussion that can swell as tension rises, acoustic guitar and backing choirs. The soft fuzz of electronics and synths that came to the fore in 22, A Million are back but more subdued. “Holyfields,” has an element of 80’s nostalgia with its echoing organs, harrowing strings and soft pads, but is driven by Vernon’s voice, while “Jelmore” brings distorted electronic sounds to match his existential wailing. Bluesy flourishes frame songs like “Faith” with the gentle twang of electric guitar interspersed with acoustic guitar and soft cooing from a background choir. Saxophones can often be cheesy, but it is used beautifully to close out the emotional “Sh’Diah,” bringing together a vast amount of instrumentation into this album.

This feels like Bon Iver’s most complete and thoughtful album yet. At times he can be inscrutable lyrically and sonically, but there is a method to the madness of how life can be the same way. On the first few listens, it feels as though this is the culmination of a great era of music for Bon Iver and the smoothest listen all the way through. Take 40 minutes today and this weekend to enjoy this album. Stream it below and pick up a copy here.

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