• Sam Poole

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

"Am I dependent in what I'm defending? Do we get to hold what faith provides?"

I had heard nothing about this album or about Bon Iver for a long time and then all of a sudden, as I'm scrolling through Apple Music looking for new music to geek out over, (as I usually am) under "UPCOMING RELEASES", there it was. Everything about this album screamed at me that it needed to be listened to. With a title, album cover and marketing so intriguing, this album demanded to be heard as soon as I stumbled upon it. Justin Vernon has always been a personal hero of mine. The way he has been able to write, produce, play, sing, perform at an incredibly high level all while being so innovative and different has mystified me ever since FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO. I,I follows that same pattern of innovation and uniqueness that we know and love from Vernon...

Following the theme of Autumn to cap off a modern-day-Vivaldi (FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO - Winter / BON IVER - Spring / 22, A MILLION - Summer), we open with a phone recording of a distorted, muffled conversation between Justin and his friend Trevor, chopped up, experimented and twisted until it becomes "the spirit that flows into the next song" as Vernon describes on Apple Music's liner notes. He does not disappoint with the next song as he keeps this spirit alive but is able to bring it to life in the form of a full song, "iMi". In this extremely captivating opening, he opens with lyrics as evocative as they come:

"Living in a lonesome way

Had me looking other ways

(Cause I am I am I am lost here, again)

But on a bright fall morning, I'm with it

I stood a little while within it"

If that does not make any listener want more, nothing else will. The song reaches a climax with a an amazing New Orleans-style horn cadenza cacophony resolving on a D-flat Major 9 chord, seeming to symbolize Justin's willingness to again toss his own rule book out the window and start completely fresh. The song is abruptly ended with a small IV-I cadence, which is precisely the thing that makes Bon Iver so genius. Upon first listen, you're not completely sure where Justin is taking you or even what exactly he's saying. All you know is that you want to hear more. It's moments like the resolution of the horn cadenza that give you the washing sensation of being in the presence of greatness. You never quite know what to expect next from each song, and Justin is amazing at throwing all of the listener's expectations overboard and doing not what he thinks should be done, but doing what needs to be done. This truly is the mark of a great artist.

After the overwhelming feeling that comes with the horn cadenza, we're taken along a journey through songs cryptic, non-cryptic, simple, complex, hard hitting baritone guitar, classic ruggedness of the acoustic guitar that makes Bon Iver so recognizable, incredibly structured and beautifully written pop songs, improvised electronic movements and everything in between. It's truly remarkable to gaze upon what Justin and his producers, (who deserve Grammys for their incredible work) Chris Messina and Brad Cook have accomplished here. They've somehow managed to produce something unlike anything released in 2019, but have included the knowledge of pop, alternative, rock, jazz, dance, experimental, ambient, singer/songwriter and more genres to help them tell stories of passion, love, heartbreak, religion, politics, living in Trump's America and more.

When I first heard the song "Holyfields", I was so blindsided. The staccato nature of the synth, the simplistic playfulness of the melody at the start, the relationship between the major key signature and tonic minor, and the way the song resolves with a soaring, beautiful, never-ending melody are all nothing short of wonderful. I go to Apple Music upon the release date and as I'm reading the liner notes, I come across this line under the description for "Holyfields".'

"The whole song is an improvised movement with barely any editing, and we just improv'd moves... We didn't really chop away at that one-it kind of just was born with all its hair and everything."

You're telling me that whole song was improvised? This is something rarely done in any genre of music, let alone something as popular as this. This song was already an exercise of the highest form of artistic expression, and to know that it's improvised, makes it unprecedented. He follows "Holyfields" up with what might be my favourite song of the year "Hey, Ma". It is incredibly well written, amazingly produced, and performed with such execution. All the while, it includes the unique production choices that we know Vernon, Messina, and Cook can do better than anyone else in the world.

As listeners, we are lucky enough to be taken on Vernon's journey through Autumn, and we are treated to some amazing moments...

• The amazingly written piano line (done by Bruce Hornsby) on the jazz feel of "U (Man Like)"

• The beauty of Justin's impeccable guitar ability on "Marion"

• The inner moving cello-like synth lines on "Faith"

• The syncopation and uneasiness of "Jelmore"

• The shades of FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO that close out the album on "RABi"

Justin Vernon continues time and again ("Faith" reference) to break through the mold of pop & alternative music. He's done it four times, and each time, it's been completely different than the last. He is an outlier in music as he is totally free of the constraints that the music industry can put on all of its artists. I,I takes every rule that the industry has tried to inflict upon its artists and throws them out the window. This album is like a painting that you can look at multiple times and see completely different things than you did before. Timeless. Courageous. Introspective, yet outward. Bold. Creative. Visionary. Brave. Innovative. I believe that Justin said it best in the liner notes ...

"There's a lot to be sad about, there's a lot to be thankful for. Leaning on gratitude and appreciation of the people around you that make you who you are, make you feel safe and provide that shelter so you can be who you want to be, there's still that impetus in life. We need that."

There is no doubt that this album is just what the world needs, and what all humans need to be exposed to. In 30 years time, I,I will become one of the most important alternative albums in history.

So can you guess my pick for Best Alternative Album at the 2020 Grammy's?

HIGHLIGHTS: "iMi", "Holyfields,", "Hey, Ma", "U (Man Like)", "Faith", "Marion"

GRADE: 93 (A+)

36 views0 comments
  • Sam Poole

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

“Everything falls apart. But we know we still got heart. Here’s to the broken ones…”

The dance genre has just been rejuvenated in the form of Illenium’s third LP, ASCEND.

I am huge fan of the DJ/Producer who puts together a whole album by themselves and features the world’s top vocalists to sing their amazing work. Mark Ronson’s LATE NIGHT FEELINGS was a great example of just that. I’d classify that more in the realm of pop music, and put ASCEND closer to dance. Both are special in their own unique way. But for now, let’s get into what makes Nick Miller’s (Illenium’s birth name) ASCEND so great.

This is a huge thing that no talks about with new albums: the cover. This features a beautiful image of a human woman with phoenix-like wings levitating above the ground, but covered in flames in the process of gaining her wings. That image alone hooked me into the album before even listening to any of its’ content. An album is not just a collection of new, original songs, but rather an hour-long journey to a place that the artist must transfer us to. The cover art MUST attract its audience, and make the listener want to know more about the album, all while representing the journey that the artist has set. That is no easy feat. But ASCEND has captured this philosophy perfectly. Whoever designed the cover art, created a beautiful image that captured the spirit of ASCEND, and took us on a journey of it’s own. It is a remarkable cover.

I love this new trend of preludes to open up albums now. It’s a really great way to grab the listener’s attention and give them something they might not expect when they press play on the top of a track list. ASCEND’s prelude “I Care” begs to be heard with Georgia Ku’s soft but heartbreaking paragraph:

“It’s unavoidable. It just happens. When you grow up, your heart dies.”

“Who cares?”

“I care…”

We then transition into the opening track (another key selling point of any album), “Hold On”: a tremendously catchy, melodious song that you can’t help but head bob along to, but that also contains beautiful & evocative lyrics about letting go of toxic love. The “drop” in this song (the post-chorus dance break) features such a spacious pad with a lead sound that almost blends into the pad, making for one huge orchestral sound. It is an amazing show of knowledge on the opening track, hooking you in and leaving you wanting more. And boy, do you ever get more …

Miller follows the opening track up with a string of some of the best pop/dance music in the world…

• The emo-inspired “Good Things Fall Apart” with an incredibly dynamic vocal performance by Jon Bellion

• The pleading 80’s-inspired ballad “Crashing” with the stunning innovative work of pop-trio Bahari

• The cry of love’s confusion “Broken Ones” with former Vine-superstar Anna Clendening (who gives the best vocal performance on the album)

• The fusion of “Colbie Caillat-Alternative" and club banger “Sad Songs” with Annika Wells & Said The Sky

One of the most incredible things is that not a single millisecond is wasted on this album. With every song transitioning perfectly into the next, Miller never lets you turn off your ears. Once you think you might get a break, something completely different than the last track comes on and entices you on a whole other level. It’s a truly incredible listening experience.

I’m also amazed by all of the amazing collaborations on this album by artists both up-and-coming and already established. Amazing performances by up-and-comers such as Georgia Ku, Annika Wells, Chandler Leighton & Echos have opened to my eyes to some more amazing musicians. Established artists such as The Chainsmokers, Anna Clendening, Lennon Stella & X Ambassadors prove why they’re just that: established artists with an amazing talent and skill.

I can’t give it an A+ because there are only so many good songs on this album. However, the ones that are good are some of the most creative and innovative expressions of pop and dance to come forward in this new age of show-stopping music that 2019 has had to offer.

ASCEND is definitely worth a very attentive listen because it will blindside you, just like it did to me and many many others …

HIGHLIGHTS: “Hold On”, “Crashing”, “Broken Ones”, “Sad Songs”, “Lonely”

GRADE: 89 (A)

37 views0 comments

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

"There's nothing you could do or say, I can't escape the way I love you..."

This is a really special one. This is one of the most innovative albums made in this century. Billie Eilish is pushing the envelope on pop music in the best way possible. Eilish is a true artist, in every sense of the word, and one of the best in the world. The songwriting and production on this album is something truly unique and some of the best that pop music has ever heard. I would love to hear what she sounds like when she's singing full out and giving it her all, because I bet it would be amazing. But the way she uses the softness of her voice and overall sound to her benefit is genius. Her lyrics are so beautiful that it almost doesn't matter whats going on underneath them. These are pretty much the smartest lyricists in the world.

If I had ONE thing to say about the album, it would be that the producers really liked to show off. For example: "8" where the EQ of Billie's voice goes all over the meter fairly quickly is quite distracting from the amazing simplicity that is that song. Things like that hinder this album from being literal perfection. However, the producers are insanely smart in songs like "bad guy" where production really doesn't get much better than that.


Billie Eilish is for sure an artist to look out for, and without a doubt is creating a whole new genre of music, influencing future musicians for what I think will be generations.


HIGHLIGHTS: "bad guy", "when the party's over", "i love you", "bury a friend"

GRADE: 95 (A+)

17 views0 comments

Sam Poole

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube

©2019 by Sam Poole. Proudly created with