Justin Vernon is an absolute wildchild on Bon Iver’s ‘i,i’

Justin Vernon is an absolute wildchild on Bon Iver’s ‘i,i’

Photo by Graham Tolbert and Crystal Quinn
Words by Scott Hudson

The renowned songwriter takes another step into the wilderness with his fourth album.

While holistically a folk record, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the elements of electronica, jazz, soul and blues that delicately touch all the tracks of i,i in seemingly intrinsic ways.

Justin Vernon starts i,i with a crudely recorded studio session labelled ‘Yi’ blending slowly into the first song ‘iMi’. This does well to place you beside him as he tells his stories in a way only Bon Iver can.

Though a proven lyricist, Vernon doesn’t shy from burying his vocals in the mix on occasion, allowing the instruments to tell the story. This, alongside the unorthodox track names and song structures of this project, should polarise i,i from mainstream listeners, but the sheer beauty of the record pushes you to listen until the end. 

‘Faith’ is a sonic story arc, told through poignant lyricism, “The wonderful things I’ve learned to waste”. As the song builds, you are brought from a tepid, atmospheric instrumental to an intense middle section and then guided by a harmonic choir escorting you to a sombre end.

‘iMi’ seamlessly explores electronica, jazz and folk underneath Bon Iver’s signature harmonies, telling the story of misplaced emotion and doomed love; “Ooh, mine was a lover of a wrong kind”.

Closer ‘RABi’ is a blues tune, spoken mostly through a guitar and subtle touches of atmospheric production, finishing i,i with the prophetic “But if you wait, it won’t be undone”.

This is a pure expression of emotion packaged into a meticulously written and produced body of music.