Bon Iver – i,i (3 stars)

Bon Iver – i,i

Justin Vernon's fourth studio album concludes his seasonal quartet of Bon Iver releases

From a cabin in the woods to state-of-the-art playground in just over ten years – Bon Iver mainman Justin Vernon has made the most of the opportunities which arose from the unexpected global success of his no-fi debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Initiatives include running his own festival and launching a non-commercial streaming service on to which he regularly dripfeeds new material – including, at one point, a song entitled 'The Shittiest Day In American History' (whatever could he be talking about?)

Vernon has also become progressively more sociable as a musician, and some of his recent collaborators crop up on this fourth Bon Iver album. Guests include piano man Bruce Hornsby, the Dessner brothers from the National and James Blake, whose propensity for manicured angst makes its presence felt in the periodic use of distorted keening vocals.

There is a thin line between this self-regarding pretension and the soulful gospel chorale of 'iMi', and Vernon seems intent on criss-crossing it throughout this downbeat electronic suite which sticks roughly to the same lane as 2016's 22, A Million in eschewing the songwriting rigour of earlier albums in favour of experimenting with the sonic palette.

Vernon has suggested that the weeks spent utilising multiple rooms in the studio were more crucial to the record than the years he spent songwriting – you can judge for yourself whether or not that is a boon. While individual tracks don't outstay their welcome, many are frustratingly sketchy.

Highlights are invariably the more soulful interludes – the bare vocal invocation at the start of 'Hey, Ma' would not be out of place on a Young Fathers album. Hornsby guests on the piano–led, gospel-tinged 'U (Man Like)', which culminates with some sweet call-and-response between the sexes. But, elsewhere, the testifying quality of Vernon's raw vocal over a calming wash of finessed piano and synths on 'Naeem' or his pained pronouncements against a backdrop of soothing, shifting brass on 'Sh'Diah' sounds contrived.

Out now on Jagjaguwar.

Post a comment