It’s been a while since Bon Iver came out with an album after “22, A Million” in 2016, which grew on me nicely. The combination of folk, indie, electronica and glitch was overwhelming but pleasantly so. Like its predecessor, the “i,i” title and track list had me rolling my eyes because, well, it is very ostentatious. Bon is unapologetically that guy though and he’s always walked into projects with an air of pretension around him. I like this side of him most of the time. He gets away with it. I’m not much for some other artists who do the same like Francis and The Lights .
My expectations for “i,i” were simple. I expected ambience to the max, off-kilter song structures and strong hooks. I didn’t expect to hear something coherent but I did hope for it. I pretty much got what I asked for without the coherence. Like 22, A Million, there are soaring standouts like Faith, which has a powerful digitized bass and epic build up not dissimilar to Creature Fear, only less folk more gospel. We is another favorite. Hip hop elements glue the digitized folky yelping from Bon, and the catchy rhythms add up to something rather coherent from beginning to end. I also very much like the saxes here. Songwriting is strong on Hey Ma and reminds me of the pre 22, A Million days. Still, his cadence is a screwed down version of 33 “GOD".” There isn’t a ton of new Bon Iver ideas here and that isn’t something I hate. Like I said, I enjoyed 22, A Million so I’m not disappointed to hear a sequel.
Salem has an interesting instrumental peak and so does Naeem and iMi. Of the three, I prefer Salem. The songwriting in particular is beautiful. He uses the Salem witch trials to briefly transition into a comment on individuality and working together despite our differences. “'Cause abnormalities / Is elasticity, empowerment and ease / So I won't lead no lie/ With our hearts the only matter why /How long it's lasted / I've not received reciprocity.” Reoccurring gospel elements peak on Sh’Diah where distant wailing and saxes intertwine into a clean, watery landscape with a drop of a twinkling sound here and there. Rabi’s closer isn’t super strong instrumentally but not out of place narratively.
Is the “i,i” sequel better than the original? Honestly, yes. Is it a project I love? Like any Bon Iver project, only time will tell.