It seems time to acknowledge, Bon Iver will go down as legendary. As easy a target for parody Justin Vernon and co. often make, whether for the whole log cabin thing, by Justin Timberlake on SNL, the absurd song titles of 22, A Million, you name it, the fact remains: these guys make some gorgeous music.

What’s more, painful earnestness be damned, they’ve consistently been determined to forge ever forward. The homegrown pain of For Emma gave way to the serene grandeur of Bon Iver, only for the band to suddenly blast into the stratosphere with the often inscrutable but undeniably astounding 22, A Million.

All this can make their fourth album, i,i, a bit of a head scratcher. Given Vernon’s own tentative treatment of the project, it seemed fair to wonder if the band would even return at all following what stood as an essentially flawless trilogy. Return they have, and seemingly with the feeling of an Alexander having conquered all that stood to be conquered.

For the first time, Bon Iver have produced an album seemingly without stakes. There is no grand intent, no new, lofty goal. The band are simply gathered and doing the things they know well. At times, this can work in i,i's favor, gifting the record an easygoing feeling of natural creation. However, for a band known to astound, it can feel a bit limited and complacent.

Rather than presenting any new ideas, the album is content to rest somewhere between the worlds of the self-titled and 22, A Million, while being neither as gorgeous as the former or relentlessly creative as the latter. Instead, it simply is, and the results can often be underwhelming, if pleasantly so. Viewed without a critical eye, as if from a distance, they have the bone structure of any lovable Bon Iver song. The moment any given element is isolated, they’re revealed as nearly flaccid, happy in their muted presentation, limp and inert. Some tracks, such as 'We', making so little impression passing by that it takes a moment to realize you've already arrived on another track.

Also coasting in a more low key realm is Vernon’s songwriting. There are no truly devastating moments here, nor any grounding realizations. Largely he simply plays the role you’d expect, reliably melancholy, but without the bracing pain. To be fair, he’s enjoyed a remarkable career, presumably a more contented perspective is only natural. Unfortunately, it hasn’t taken him to any places of particular interest, resulting in a sort of lyrical window dressing, including the already often alternatively mocked and adored, “I was toking on dope." When the simplest of observations ("I like you, and that ain't nothin' new") are the keenest observations to be found, it becomes increasingly apparent there isn't much of a surface to peer beneath.

While Bon Iver are still an easy band to adore, it’s a tad unfortunate they chose to follow one of the best three-album-runs in recent memory without any aspirations of measuring up to the legacy they’ve created. To be fair, they’ve earned a victory lap, but why not aim for one worthy of the far-reaching material before it, rather than settling for satisfying those willing to gobble up anything they’d offer? i,i is an album meant to please their least demanding customers; a session of pure, light nostalgia, and given the band’s rabid following, it’s still certain to succeed, even to receive knee jerk, overeager accolades. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard not to recall just how much more these guys are capable of.