Bon Iver is returning with their fourth studio album, i,i, to be released in August. In anticipation, they've released two singles, "Faith" and "Jelmore."
This comes on the heels of two previous releases—the sparkling, electric "Hey Ma" and the more abstract "U (Man Like)" (feat. Moses Sumney). To create i,i, Justin Vernon amassed some of music's best architects of visionary folk-pop, including features from James Blake, The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Velvet Negroni, Marta Salogni, and many more.
So far, the existent singles have blended recollections of Justin Vernon's folkier "Holocene" days mixed with some of the electronic experimentation from 2016's visionary 22, A Million. True to form, though his stylistic choices have changed, Vernon continues to set himself apart from the rest with his ability to evoke specific emotions and scenes with abstract words and unconventional arrangements. In a way, he uses his voice and his lyrics as another instrument; and, like a cello or a guitar, it doesn't deliver sentences that have meaning in a literal sense but instead manages to touch on a more spiritual, universal plane.
Whereas these emotions were almost always fraught in his earlier compositions—from For Emma, Forever Ago's desperate gloom to 22, A Million's panicked ecstasy—"Faith" is all about joy. It's a pure-hearted, gleaming tune that brushes close to pop in its glossy cohesiveness. Beginning with a synth that sounds like sunlight streaming through a window in the morning, it crescendos into waves of droning bass and delicate guitar. "We have to know that faith declines," sings Vernon over a choir of angelic backing vocals. "I'm not all out of mine."
Bon Iver - Faith - Official Lyric Video www.youtube.com
"Jelmore," on the other hand, is a starkly pessimistic song that directly contrasts "Faith." Over a disorienting loop of woodwinds, Vernon delivers a clear warning about climate change. "We'll all be gone by the falling light," he says. "How long / will you disregard the heat?" Just like any climate report, it's somewhat difficult to listen to, with its offhand mentions of gas masks and general feelings of abandonment and because the message it delivers is almost too blindingly disconcerting to look at full-on.
Bon Iver - Jelmore - Official Lyric Video www.youtube.com
These two songs, with their opposing perspectives, present the spectrum of the modern human experience, in all its euphoria and pain. That may be the purpose of i,i: So far, it seems to be about universal experiences and connection to something much greater than oneself, be it God or the suffering planet or both.
The album's tracklist is below:
05. 'Hey, Ma'
06. 'U (Man Like)'
Judging by these song names, it seems that Vernon is continuing along the religious themes he began to traverse in 22, A Million—only this time, perhaps in a less hectic way. Whereas that album was all about mashing abstract sounds and disparate symbolism into chaotic, collage-like hymns, it seems that i,i will be slower and more meditative, more of a brew than a zombie-like patchwork.
A press release for the album explained that, actually, i,i represents the completion of a cycle of seasons, which is perhaps the source of its more reflective qualities. "From the winter of For Emma, Forever Ago came the frenetic spring of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and the unhinged summer of 22, A Million. Now, fall arrives early with i,i," the release read.
Though it may represent the conclusion of a calendar year, i,i also seems to represent a new chapter of Vernon's understanding of life. If 22, A Million saw God through a kaleidoscope, i,i seems set on removing all blinders and lenses and looking over the big picture, as if from above. Vernon also affirmed this in an interview. "It feels like when you get through all this life, when the sun starts to set, and what happens is you start gaining perspective," he said. "And then you can put that perspective into more honest, generous work."