Bon Iver fans had a pleasant surprise last month when the group dropped their fourth album I,I a few weeks ahead of schedule. With 2016’s unexpectedly experimental 22, A Million dividing opinion, I,I is a fine balance between lead singer Justin Vernon’s familiar, warm acoustic folk and glitch-ridden electronic wonderings.
From opener iMi, it seems like the record is going to be a continuation of the last, with Kanye-inspired autotune vocal patches over soft, cluttered keyboard surges and harsh scratch sounds; but it quickly develops into the lush mix of brass, strings, and choirs that dominated 2011’s self-titled album.
Naeem is the best example, with warm piano underpinning Vernon’s low, raw holler as he sings: “But I’m climbing down the bastion now/You take me out to pasture now/Well I won’t be angry long.” The female choir grows more prominent as the snare rolls come thundering in for an exhilarating ride of reflection, optimism and melancholy.
Elsewhere, poignant strings lift the sleepy, subconscious Holyfields, and Jelmore’s clipped, grainy synth pattern is packed full of emotion.
This record feels so cohesive, but diverse, that even the open-tuning acoustic guitar strums of Marion recall Bon Iver’s heart-breaking debut For Emma, Forever Ago, without feeling misplaced.
After a brief misstep, Bon Iver have found their footing again, with a sound that is distinctly their own.