Album cover for i,i

First, the track-by-track breakdown.


31 seconds of muffled weird metallic instrumentals and what we assume is some behind the scenes audio from the album’s recording process.



The distortions and the harmonization on Justin Vernon’s voice: 👍. The thudding piano chords and the q U i r K y instrumentals: 👍. Melody + lyrics: 👍. Ending on the frenzy of horns before the hyper-distorted and sped-up vocals: 👍. Not 100% sold on the static-y rush that’s interspersed, because it sounds a little bit just like poor audio quality (on the first listen we actually checked to see if it was a problem with the speaker), but it’s obviously a deliberate artistic choice, so it passes.



When we first listened to We, it wasn’t super memorable. Upon second listen, however, it’s a really interesting song, especially considering what Bon Iver typically sounds like. We definitely has some hip-hop influence, which was super cool — although the lyrics (e.g. “What you think we’re taming with the towers and the oar?”) don’t quite take a cue from the greatest rappers of all time. His sped up, sing-talking is a bop, though, in the truest sense of the word.

We’d give it a third and fourth listen.


How the bopping frequency that constitutes the beat fades in and out is super, super freaking nice. I feel like I’m listening to the word “Doppler” put into music.


Hey, Ma

Not to be confused with Hey Mama by Kanye West, but if you do confuse it with Hey Mama, that would be fine because Hey Mama is an incredible song.

First off, we’re not really sure what he’s trying to say here. Here are some uh… lyrical highlights:

Tall vote, you know you mope it up
I wanted all that mind sugar
Then you took me in the room
And you offered up the truth
Let me talk to ‘em all

I’m sure Vernon had some intention behind his songwriting — because he’s had absolutely genius songwriting in the past (see: Blood Bank) — but at moments it definitely feels like Vernon was just playing Mad Libs with slightly intoxicated, possibly homesick seventeen-eighteen year olds (don’t read too much into this). Nonetheless, “mind sugar” is the best code word for cocaine we’ve ever heard so we’ll give the lyrics a 10/10.

The Production™ is pretty nice, unlike some other songs on the album, he augments the main noise of strange intermittent radio beeps with really good atmospheric and instrumental music (as in like, guitars) to make the song a right mix of unique and listenable — a hard balance to strike in whatever genre Bon Iver belongs to.

And to top it off, it’s a really good song to sway to, it’s nostalgic, surround sound energy makes you wanna rock like a boat and then maybe freak out about the impending disaster college may or may not be (don’t read too much into this one either).

Sway, baby!

U (Man Like)

This one sounds a little more distinctive to the rest of the album because it’s lighter on the Production™ and clearly more focused on the singing itself. And yeah, the melody is literally wired so that you automatically want to bop/pretend you can dance/make finger guns to it. The lyrics (that we can hear pretty well, now) are as cryptic prose-poetry as can be expected, and the background vocals are a really, really good touch.

Presently, it does include my dues
Ain’t your standard premonitions
All this phallic 😦 repetition
Boy, you tell yourself a tale or two



Best song on this album, hands down. It’s a dance song, a surround-sound™ song, and most of all, it’s a good song! Just listen to it and get nicely overwhelmed!

How Naeem makes us feel (Sarah mid-dance).


There are cool instrumentals+distortions in the background. It’s a good interlude, though a little long for the level of variation it introduces (as in, it’s repetitive). Does better if you listen to it individually rather than in the context of the album.



Good, cryptic lyrics. Same cool instrumentals + distortions as ever. Great moments where it builds up / layers / crests and feels…triumphant? (“Time and again…It’s time to be brave!”) Love the Jesus vibe.

It’s not going the road I’d known as a child of God
Nor to become stable
(So what if I lose? I’m satisfied)



A bit more stripped down and strummy than the rest, but same kind of vibe, y’know? The main refrain of the song, “Well, I thought that this was half a love,” is a sweet one, and the repetition of mostly one line over and over again kind of reminds me of Woods, in a good way.

Our man’s doing fine.


Don’t know how to feel about the initial/underlying background beat on this song, it feels a bit too LCD Soundsystem for comfort. But once that techno-y beat chills out a bit and we get the high, slightly-affected voice of Justin Vernon flooding in, it’s all good. As the song starts to build up with the vocals and the horns (2:15-3:00), yeah, nice. Maybe lasts a touch too long.

S’all pretty good.


It was long. After a couple minutes, all vocals and extra instrumentation cuts off and we have 2 minutes and 11 seconds of sounds that definitely belong in a Spotify playlist titled Deep Focus Brain Food Music For Studying. The Deep Focus Brain Food Music for Studying sounds were fine, like all Deep Focus Brain Food Music for Studying sounds are, but we really didn’t need 2 minutes of it. Unless you pull a Kanye and add, to quote ourselves, “3 minutes of completely distorted singing and instrumental and it’s freaking genius”, to the end of a song, prolonging a song for mediocre instrumentals is anti-genius and ruins whatever was set up al primero.

Cut it down a lil bit, brosef?


We can actually understand these lyrics! Some lyrical highlights:

When we were children we were hell-bent
Or oblivious at least
But now it comes to mind
We are terrified
So we run and hide
For a verified little peace

Though the instrumentals aren’t as intricate as the other songs on this album, Bon Iver’s crooning about adulthood™ and disappointment™ and growth™ (and everything else us naive teens fail to understand) make it feel as if we were being tucked in? After a long hard day of listening to the album? Yeah, we’re stretching this one. Nonetheless, it’s a good ending to a good album, though we probably wouldn’t listen to this song on it’s own.


Now for The Overall Thoughts™…

The thing is, you can’t really say this is a not good album: Justin Vernon’s harmonized and distorted voice, liberally used, sounds just as good as always, the weird metallic and distorted noises which form the “beats” are what we like to hear, in general, and when the lyrics do manage to show through the instrumental, they’re as cryptically poetic as we like our Bon Iver lyrics to be (see Blood Bank).

But the problem with it seems to be the same problem with every Bon Iver LP/EP: while all the content is solid, the album also lacks standouts and it generally sounds like we’re listening to 10ish versions of the same song. Every song gets the same treatment re: the instrumentals and the vocals, and the only way you can distinguish the relative quality of different songs is your personal sound preference for what kind of melody you want to hear. (I would also say your personal level of relatability / resonance with the lyrics, but I don’t think they can be clearly heard enough consistently through any track for that to be true.)

With an album like this, how much you enjoy it depends a lot on how you listen to it: if you listen to individual songs in different sittings, and cover the album piece by piece with space and time between every listen, you’ll probably be really, really appreciative of all of it. But listening to it in one sitting, given how similar each track feels, you may find yourself fatigued.

That being said, however, it’s still more interesting and levels above most folk and indie stuff that’s being made these days. And, although we expected nothing less of Bon Iver, it has some brief flashing moments of absolute fire.

The Culinarity™ Score:


Want an explanation of our scoring system? See here.