Apparently, i,i completes a seasonal quartet of Bon Iver albums, starting with the wintry confessions of 2008s For Emma, Forever Ago and ending now, in autumn. Yet i,i has a brighter, more optimistic and open feel than its summer predecessor 22, a Million, with its often impenetrable numerology, distorted Yeezus beats and gutpunch bass. What remains from past seasons is Heavenly Fathers digital gospel, and a little of 00000 Millions acoustic directness.
But what holds Bon Ivers ever-evolving backwoods orchestra together is Justin Vernons yearning vocals. Less obviously Auto-Tuned than before, words tumble out, meaning slips in and out of focus, and the weirdly annoying anachronisms, gnomic neologisms and ecstatic revelations push you to privilege feeling over thinking. The album peaks somewhere around the heartstopping beauty of Hey, Mas drifting, wordless middle eight, a breakdown brimming with inarticulate emotion, barely understood, unmediated.
Bon Iver have imperceptibly moved from requesting close listening to requiring it, and i,i spins a mesmerising web of superficially insubstantial yet intensely majestic music. Listen closely and you can hear the language of pop being redrafted in real time.