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Burn Movie Review

Sizzlingly Odd
In his debut feature, writer/director Mike Gan has created a small film that, if there's justice, will attain a cult-like status. "Burn" takes place in the course of one evening and entirely within the confines of a rural, out-of-the-way gas station shop.
It's the kind of place that loners might wander into for a hot cup of coffee at 3am. Obviously this is not a big budget film, but Gan squeezes an awful lot of goodness out of it. Maybe we should call it badness.

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Bon Iver - i,i Music Album Reviews

On his fourth album, Justin Vernon reassembles the familiar Bon Iver elements like a cubist collage, with his voice fearlessly front and center. The result is his most honest and forthright music ever.

Bon Iver has always been Justin Vernon’s escape route. After retreating to the woods of Wisconsin to record For Emma, Forever Ago, he drew a surrealist roadmap of the United States on Bon Iver, depicting a fantastical world where the lived, the dreamed, and desired coexisted. When this invented land felt oppressive and the anxiety of facing it too overwhelming, Vernon retreated again and burrowed within himself, pulverizing his voice with machines to create 22, A Million, a record that dramatized the fracturing of the self.


There’s no more hiding on i,i. Justin Vernon takes the Bon Iver sound and reassembles it like a cubist collage, with his voice right out front. All the familiar elements are here—impressionist swells of sound, impenetrable-yet-tender lyrics, mesmerizing studio tricks—and they are buoyed by Vernon’s supple baritone, the instrument he knows how to manipulate best. Acoustic guitar, horns, and piano return to prominence alongside the jittery electronics and synths that Vernon has lately favored. But the mood he conjures with these elements feels new. These songs don’t swallow you whole with grandeur; they look outward, leaving some room for the rest of the world.

The lyrics find Vernon locating peace within the ordinary and everyday. “I like you/And that ain’t nothing new,” he sings simply on “iMi.” Later, on “RABi,” he observes, “Well, it’s all just scared of dying.” These things don’t always merit saying out loud, but Vernon seems to be singing them to rediscover their meaning, and the music feels equally straightforward and searching. Songs like “Marion” and “Holyfields,” are uncharacteristically unadorned, even compared to the For Emma and Blood Bank era, when Vernon was at least joined by his own echoes. Here, he sounds completely exposed.

Still, there are plenty of invited guests to provide cover, or at least offer their company. James Blake, Moses Sumney, and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, among others, pop up throughout. Even Young Thug collaborator Wheezy has composing and production credits. Vernon sampled the voices of others on 22, A Million, but in that context they felt more like dolls he’d animated than human beings. The guests on i,i, meanwhile, are allowed to breathe. Bruce Hornsby might sing only one line on the single “U (Man Like),” but his presence is enlivening. It’s less lonely to have friends nearby.

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Vernon himself sings with more texture and conviction than ever before. He’s shifted fully from vessel to commander, steering the music instead of seeping into it. A song like “Naeem” is filled with production flourishes—a soft backing choir, faint samples, the sort of military drums favored on Bon Iver’s “Perth”—yet it all serves to highlight the booming sound of Vernon’s voice, bellowing in his natural range. The lyrics to “Naeem” are dizzying and, at points, indecipherable (“I fall off a bass boat/And the concrete’s very slow”), but he isn’t hiding behind them. It’s more like Vernon is suggesting that only feeling can offer truth. On “Naeem,” he sings, “Tell them I’ll be passing on/Tell them we’re young mastodons,” dragging his words in the second line until you can almost hear him choking up. Like all the best moments in his catalog, it is inexplicably touching.

i,i is often about trying to reconnect with some idea of a true self, even as you move forward. Vernon writes of scars and things lost: “You were young when you were gave it,” he sings on “We,” a line that speaks to his ability to summon powerful elegiac feelings with a few simple words. “Hey, Ma,” immediately one of the best songs in the Bon Iver catalog, is rousing and explicitly sentimental. “Full time you talk your money up/While it’s living in a coal mine,” Vernon belts, but his voice is too earthy to sound hateful. Instead, it’s like he’s offering absolution, promising that something as simple as a call to your mom is enough to make up for avarice or bluster.

At first glance, the tracklist for i,i is as bewildering as the symbol-laden 22, A Million. Upon listening, though, you realize that many of these are probably mondegreens and homonyms, cheeky nods to how hard it is to understand Bon Iver’s lyrics. “Jelmore,” for instance, is a fragment of what it sounds like when Vernon sings, “Well angel morning sivanna.” And the title for the closing “RABi” comes from the couplet, “I could prophet/I could rob I, however.” There are plenty of interpretive possibilities available in those words, but none of them are as enticing as their sheer sound. The music is also not as mysterious as the songs’ monikers suggest. There’s an overwhelming calmness and pleasantness to i,i, and “RABi” is one of the most easygoing of the bunch. “Sunlight feels good now don’t it,” Vernon sings. There’s no great symbolism in the track, no yearning, no enveloping echoes. What emerges is a solace that has eluded Vernon on past Bon Iver releases. “I don’t have a leaving plan,” he sings, maybe because there’s nowhere else he needs to go.


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