New Releases

Bon Iver's New Song Is an Isolation Mantra

"PDLIF" is Justin Vernon's first release since last year's i,i.

In his decade-plus career, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon has gone from a soft-spoken acoustic auteur to one of the most innovative, enigmatic musicians working today.

Although typically known for being quite the introvert, Vernon torched his seclusion to the ground with last year's i,i, his most confident and direct record yet. His vocals were no longer fuzzy whispers or distorted murmurs, instead taking the forefront. Bon Iver's latest song, "PDLIF," is no exception, as a sprawling, soulful ballad that's Vernon at his boldest. The song's title is an acronym for "please don't live in fear," a fitting mantra upon its time of release.

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You know those movies that have been parodied, memed, and referenced so much that you feel like you've seen them–but you never have and, honestly, why would you bother?

You know that at the end of Taxi Driver Travis Bickle may or may not hallucinate a violent episode, and you've seen people dress up in Robert De Niro's utility jacket, black shades, and weird Roman soldier haircut at every Halloween party you've ever attended. You know that Scarface's Tony Montana screams, "Say hello to my little friend" while wearing a suit with giant lapels and holding a machine gun. How do you know this? No, you've never seen the movie; the fact is that the sheer masterpiece of a few key scenes capturing the climax of a film can overshadow the entire production. Sure, you want to sit down to watch them "one day," but you just never get around to it.

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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.