While each of the three previous Bon Iver albums differed radically, "i,I" is an amalgamation and a culmination. Justin Vernon has called it the autumnal capstone of a journey through the seasons that began with 2008's wintry, desolate "For Emma, Forever Ago." Like that much-loved record, "i,I" focuses on Vernon's earnest, urgent voice; like 2011's self-titled album, many songs contain blossoming, spacious orchestration; as on 2016's "22, A Million," Vernon manipulates sounds with electronic distortions and Autotune (although with more restraint and warmth). The songs are elliptical, in arrangements and lyrics, and often beautiful.
In addition to a core group that includes longtime member Sean Carey, "i,I" features many guests, including Bruce Hornsby, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, and James Blake. Vernon seems to seek the perfect sonic details for each song — Hornsby's churchy piano chords in "U (Man Like)"; the pulsing synths that cede to a triumphant horn fanfare in "Salem"; the somber, jazzy sax solo in "Sh'Diah." "So what I think we need is elasticity, empowerment and ease," he sings in "Salem," although most lyrics prioritize questions, often about faith, ethics and identity, rather than answers. He's searching for insight and comfort, and "i,i"'s rich, complex songs offer both.