- 20 Aug 19
Folk outsider waxes wonderfully weird.
Justin Vernon has come a long way from that summer in Galway when he sold mobile phones off Eyre Square and blew his hard end paycheques at Supermacs (snack boxes were a favourite, he once confided to Hot Press).
Vernon’s fourth album as Bon Iver ventures further down the rabbit hole of post-folk esoteric pop that has become his signature. It’s a journey he’s been on ever since his 2007 debut album marked the arrival of a new force in introspective songwriting.
That record’s straightforward every dude angst made him a star. But fame wasn’t to his liking and in the intervening decade he’s worked at shedding his image as the thinking person’s long-faced folkie. With i,i he certainly lives up to the unofficial pact he has struck with fans that each new Bon Iver record will be progressively more bonkers.
Here there are collaboration with dad-rocker Bruce Hornsby on a Thom Yorke type fluttering dirge about homelessness (‘U (Man Like’). He also tackles politics on the anti-Trump ’Sh’diah’ – featuring Polica’s Ryan Olson – and with climate change dirge ‘Jelmore’.
But between the cracks you may still catch glimmers of the Justin Vernon of season’s past. Relationship angst bubbles up on the chain-clanking ‘Naeem’. “Can’t we just patch this up? / And I cannot seem to carry it all,” he croons amid the heavily processed ennui.
Vernon would clearly like to be thought of as an artist who transcends genre and fashion. But almost despite itself, i,i argues that he can never quite escape the sensitive everyman within. That may be a cause of frustration to Vernon. Fans, however, will be delighted to hear him circling back.