Tone Deaf-The Brag

It's impossible to step into the world of Justin Vernon without surrendering ourselves.

We traverse through each of his works when we are alone, knowing that by the end we'll all have cried, reflected, and been gripped by existential catharsis. Vernon's one-man act, Bon Iver, has historically humbled us with his uncanny ability to tap into the power of nostalgia. I would argue that no Millennial can replay For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) without remembering exactly where they were and how they felt when "Flume" and "For Emma" first hit our ears. The journey since then has been long and meaningful: 22, a Million (2016) proved Vernon to be much more than a folk troubadour with the voice of an angel. He was a magician, able to bend and mold technology in ways no one thought possible, while still keeping his pulse on the same power that makes listeners in 2019 burst into tears whenever "Skinny Love" plays on shuffle.

It's also no secret that his discography is heavily influenced by the seasons. For Emma represented winter, Bon Iver spring, and 22, a Million summer. Despite the grandiosity of this objective, each one's met its goal time and time again. Now with i,i, set to represent autumn, Vernon, in theory, has finished his cycle—except it's not autumn. It's the beginning of August, and we just finished out the hottest month in history. Bon Iver's next album wasn't supposed to come out for another three weeks; but Vernon, for some reason, chose to release it today, while still insisting that it doesn't release "in its entirety" until tomorrow. The roll-out is confusing and feels like a distraction from what is actually a magnificent album.

On i,i, Vernon has refined the glitchy subtexts of 22, a Million, making them more ambient and subdued, mostly to his gain. "iMi" is the best example of this, relying on subtle use of horns and ukulele to pull at our heartstrings, rather than resorting to the sweeping inflations we're used to on songs like "29 #Strafford APTS," "33 'GOD'" and the like. "Hey, Ma" and "Faith" carry the same energy, relying on a "less is more" tactic, much to Vernon's benefit. But the ambiance overwhelms at times: "Sh'Diah" could have benefitted from being an interlude rather than a full track, but i,i represents a pinnacle in the career of Justin Vernon. His music is impeccably toned and seems to have come full circle.

Still, one has to wonder where Vernon will go from here. The cycle has ended, albeit awkwardly, but Bon Iver's foundation has always relied on the changing seasons. With his thematic creations in the rearview, the question remains as to who Bon Iver is without them and what else he has to offer other than these nostalgic lullabies.

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Bon Iver Delves into God and Climate Change on New Singles from Their Album "i,i"

They also released the album's track list and two lyric videos.

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

"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

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:

o1. 'Yi'

02. 'iMi'

03. 'We'

04. 'Holyfields,'

05. 'Hey, Ma'

06. 'U (Man Like)'

07. 'Naeem'

08. 'Jelmore'

09. 'Faith'

10. 'Marion'

11. 'Salem'

12. 'Sh'Diah'

13. 'RABi'

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."