Music Review: Bon Iver

reviewed by Damon Orion
Bon Iver album cover

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The latest offering from Wisconsin-based indie folk group Bon Iver is the last in a series of albums that correspond to the four seasons. With unadorned vocal harmonies guiding the way, the band’s core instrumentation—guitar, piano, synths, bass, and drums—meshes with strings, horns, and electronic samples to set a contemplative mood befitting a group of songs that collectively represent autumn. 

Rather than striving for the extraordinary, Bon Iver focuses on capturing the beauty of the ordinary. Similarly, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Justin Vernon seems less interested in being understood than in creating clusters of words onto which we can project our own meanings. That said, some of i,i’s more clearly discernable messages surface in “Sh’Diah,” which appears to address the dubious priorities of certain religious factions, in “U (Man Like),” which rhetorically asks, “How much caring is there of some American love when there’s lovers sleeping in your streets?” and in “Faith,” which implies that in spite of bleak circumstances, Vernon still has some hope left: “I know it’s lonely in the dark, and this year’s a visitor, and we have to know that faith declines, [but] I’m not all out of mine.” 

On i,i’s final track, “RABi,” Vernon contemplates his own mortality while finding peace and joy in the moment: “Well, it’s all just scared of dying, but isn’t this a beach? ... When we were children, we were hell-bent, or oblivious at least, but now it comes to mind, [and] we are terrified, so we run and hide for a verified little peace. … Don’t have to have a leaving plan. Nothing’s gonna ease your mind. Well, it’s all fine, and we’re all fine anyway.”

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