Critical acclaim has followed Bon Iver since the Justin Vernon-led band burst on the scene a little over a decade ago. Their new album i,i is their first release for three years, with 22, A Million marking a sonic shift for the band from their earlier releases.
We have our own opinions on the album, which we’ll share later on. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure of how much you trust our judgement. Thus, as a compromise, we’ve compiled a series of reviews on i,i. They range from both professional criticism to mere tweets, just to run the gauntlet of opinion. Also, here’s the album, just in case you haven’t listened:
‘A decade on from the pained remoteness of For Emma, Forever Ago, i,i holds the same intimacy and urgency, elevated by years of groundbreaking experimentation.’
DIY Magazine gave i,i a perfect score in their review of the album. Reviewer Ben Tipple mentioned that the album was a departure from the overt experimentation of their previous effort, with performances of ‘Hey Ma’ and ‘Man (U Like)’ being particularly noteworthy. Tipple mentions that the electronic edge of 22, A Million hasn’t gone away, being “used remarkably sparingly, instead providing the foundation for the record’s truly big moments.” Also, there’s a lauding of ‘Faith’ which “soars with an urgency the group hasn’t displayed in years”. You can read the full review here.
‘Vernon’s work remains wilfully obscurantist, emotionally open and lyrically closed, as deep and meaningless as listeners are prepared to let it become.’
The Telegraph were a bit less forthcoming in their praise of i,i but did give the album four out of five stars. Reviewer Neil McCormick doesn’t particularly appreciate the vagueness of Vernon’s words, but recognises that they hold weight with a plethora of people. McCormick opines on Vernon that he give “technology a human heart,” with i,i showcasing all the anguish and ecstasy that Bon Iver’s best works have. You can read the full review here.
‘Justin Vernon has been building Bon Iver into an artistic commune of shared ideals – but loses his way in a fog of weak melodies and bad poetry.’
Ben Beaumont-Thomas eschews the reviewing norm to give i,i a flat two stars out of five. Beaumont-Thomas believes that i,i is the result of growing pains spawned from Bon Iver trying to scale up. The individualism showcased on For Emma, Forever Ago was what made that album so special, however with over thirty collaborators on i,i, this feeling is lacking. There are elements of the album which can compete with any of Vernon’s discography, particularly ‘Hey Ma’ (“its proper melody all the more tangible for coming after the mere simulacra before it; it has a subtle, powerful head-nod rhythm, and real bite to the scorn of its central lyric, ‘full time you talk your money up / while it’s living in a coal mine.'”). However, according to Beaumont-Thomas, the album is engulfed by a “fog” more often than not. You can read the full review here.
‘i,i spins a mesmerising web of superficially insubstantial yet intensely majestic music.’
In a strange twist, The Guardian’s Sunday edition, The Observer, gave i,i a perfect score. The reviewer on this occasion was Damien Morris, who lauds Vernon’s vocal performance, believing it to be the glue which holds all the elements of the album together. Vernon’s vocals mean “words tumble out, meaning slips in and out of focus, and the weirdly annoying anachronisms, gnomic neologisms and ecstatic revelations push you to privilege feeling over thinking.” You can read the full review here.
The Twitter reaction to the album saw an innumerable amount of people plan to contemplate their lives in the woods. Here are a selection of the best tweets:
bon iver just dropped bout to hide out in rural canada and go six months without eye contact except for some elk and a sepia photo of my ex
— jaboukie? (@jaboukie) August 8, 2019
Actual image of me listening to the new Bon Iver album pic.twitter.com/jeTrunvLUz
— music rat (@noodleconcerto) August 8, 2019
This @boniver is a bit overwhelming 🎧
— Zane Lowe (@zanelowe) August 8, 2019
Me pretending I understand a single word Bon Iver is saying pic.twitter.com/8Sh6Z4T9nP
— MLP (@mikeito_) August 8, 2019
when that new Bon Iver hits pic.twitter.com/G2iOpQTLrh
— Mindy Eskow (@mindrops) August 10, 2019
Now for our opinion. Likewise, we too want to banish ourselves to a remote woodland area to pour over Vernon’s emotive performance. i,i is utterly gorgeous, with Vernon’s vocals a notable highlight. The album also perfectly melts the sonics of the Bon Iver’s previous three albums. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we need to find a bed of leaves to lie on and contemplate life.