“RABi” fearlessly demonstrates Justin Vernon’s knack for language without hiding behind layers of sound or cryptic phrases making for a track that achieves Bon Iver level depth without too much mystery.
Listen: “RABi” – Bon Iver
Bon Iver, the moniker for indie and experimental artist extraordinaire Justin Vernon, released his fourth album i,i this August. What has been described by Vernon himself as representative of Fall, the final season in Bon Iver’s cycle of albums, and “the most adult record, the most complete,” i,i is nothing short of an enchanting, rich and timely collection of Vernon’s best. The last track on i,i, “RABi,” acknowledges that easing the mind is as close an impossibility as it’s ever been these days. The daily struggle against doom is unavoidable, and “RABi” poses a shift in perspective rather than an escape – choosing a glass-half-full mindset, choosing to see goodness even when life feels like it’s “all just scared of dying.”
Plucked and bubbly, deep but not dark, “RABi” does not build to a grand exaltation like many of Bon Iver’s songs do. It feels particularly stripped of layers. There are only a handful of instrumental textures, samples of steam releasing and maybe some bird calls – all buoyant and simple enough melodically to blend seamlessly together in a far from overwhelming way.
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
Vernon’s voice feels stripped too. He doesn’t venture up into the quintessential Bon Iver falsetto – the kind of vocalization that emphasizes sound over the articulation of words – and there are no added effects, layers or echoes. This courageously exposed sound makes for a clear delivery of the lyrics that is borderline out-of-character. No phrase too ambiguous or cloying, (with arguably a few exceptions like, “was the sand and time not a pantomime more like anodyne”) “RABi” maintains a colloquial tongue. Phrases make oh-so-subtle shifts in their reiteration like “sunlight feels good now don’t it? to some life feels good now don’t it?” Questions are asked, but there’s never an answer. And that’s the point: there’s no fix, no way to absolve the world of negativity. All you can do is release yourself from its grasp.
So what of this release?
Sunlight feels good now, don’t it?
I don’t have a leaving plan
But something’s gotta ease your mind
But it’s all fine or it’s all crime anyway
Even in their most casually articulated and clearly delivered form, Justin Vernon’s lyrics are still slippery – resonating with you if you want them to resonate, barely crossing your mind if you’d rather look past them, and shape-shifting so subtly you can gain new meaning with each listen. Maybe “RABi” encapsulates the quality “most adult [Bon Iver] record” holds – a slight lean away from the enigmatic and majestic immensity without losing the brilliance of Vernon’s stimulating language.
Watch: “RABi (Lyric Video)” – Bon Iver
? © Graham Tolber & Crystal Quinn