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Every Bon Iver album is complete. I don’t know what any of them are about.
I like it this way. When I reach for Bon Iver (which usually involves reaching for the entire discography in one sitting—a commitment I plan to stick to even though it just got 39 minutes longer) I still have no idea what I’m reaching for. I don’t know any of the words, but I know what every word sounds like. I don’t know what the songs mean, but I know they mean something to me, and they mean something quite serious.
There’s just something there. A series of never-ending layers that are labyrinthine upon close inspection and, from a distance, so simple and clear. i,i, the fourth LP, is yet another installment in this sequence.
Some of i,i is cryptic in every way. The opening duo of “Yi” and “iMi” are both ostensibly formless and full of strange meanderings of autotuned voices, synthesizers, and saxophones, all leading to some kind of whole that’s cohesive but not exactly cohesive. Other tracks, such as “Hey Ma” and “U (Man Like)” are closer to “715 – CR∑∑KS” or “29 #Strafford APTS” from 22, A Million (2016) with clearly identifiable folk songs hiding somewhere beneath the chaos.
While there are some small pauses between songs and each song has a particular character to it, each song is just outside the expected form, which makes following along with the record a strange experience. The whole thing blends together into one long stretch. The end of one song could just as easily be the beginning of the next one. Some songs, such as “Sh’Diah,” a four-minute song with a two-minute instrumental coda, only make sense because they’re part of this inexplicable system.
With Bon Iver, It’s easy to get lost in the instrumentation thing. I’ll admit that, in the lead-up to this album, my biggest question was the instrumental direction – after wintry acoustic, spacious electric, and folktronica, where else will they go? When I put i,i on for the first time, I’ll admit to a split second of disappointment—oh, it’s 22, A Million Part 2. But asking about instrumentation isn’t asking the right question. Bon Iver isn’t defined by each record being so different; Bon Iver is defined by that intangible thing that unifies each one.
While i,i does share a soundscape similar to 22, A Million, there are traces of the rest of the discography here. “Faith” would be completely at home on the Blood Bank (2009) EP. “Hey Ma” could have slipped right between “Holocene” and “Towers” on Bon Iver (2011) and nobody would have batted an eye.
With Bon Iver, the more things change, the more things stay the same. They’re still intimate and enigmatic at the same time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Notable Tracks: "Faith" | “Hey Ma” | "Naem" | “Sh’Diah”