Early on, Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon always appeared slightly bemused by fame; a man dragged from the peaceful solitude of the Wisconsin woods to klieg-lit Grammy stages and Hawaiian songwriting camps with Kanye. But somewhere over the past decade, he seems to have learned to make peace with it too — channeling the hushed, hazy intimacy of his bedroom balladry for the wide-lens audience that unexpectedly embraced him.
Maybe that’s why Bon Iver’s fourth full-length, i,i, feels as confident as anything he’s ever done: a dense, richly layered showcase for his continued aversion to the standard rules of grammar and the deepening of his defiantly uncommercial sound. The woozily atmospheric James Blake collaboration “iMi” erupts into a joyful cacophony of horns; synths pulse like underwater Doppler on the shimmering “Holyfields”; the sweet falsetto of “U (Man Like)” gets full-throated assists from both the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and dad-rock icon Bruce Hornsby, no less. If that old fantasy of the lonesome woodsman has been dispelled by boldfaced guests and studio tricks, Vernon’s voice has its own fresh timbre on i,i. It’s the sound of an artist set free to kill his caps-lock key and follow his creative impulses — wherever they lead. A-