What does it sound like?:
It’s difficult to believe that Björk is now a mature lady of 52. However, she still immerses herself in the world with a sense of wonder, constantly exploring visuals, film, staging, costumes, masks, the physicality of dance but, most of all, sound. She adores sound, especially the sound of the human voice. Just listen to the way she relishes rolling her consonants and stretching out her vowels as she sings. Including her true debut at the age of eleven and excluding remixes, Utopia is her tenth studio album as a solo artist. None of them sound the same.
One thing you can rely upon with Björk is that whatever is happening in her personal life will be frankly exposed in her work. Utopia finds her in a much better place than for her previous album, Vulnicura, where she painfully documented her break-up from her long-term partner and father to her teenage daughter. Now, she’s on the market again, using Tinder, rekindling her sex life, looking positively to the future. She retains some bitterness towards her ex and carries a mother’s worries for her offspring but, overall, Utopia is a ray of sunshine, a paean to the life-affirming power of love.
Musically, she continues her symbiotic relationship with her sonic soul-mate, Arca, and remains fascinated with Avro Pärt’s concept of tinntinnabuli. There are two voices, both sung by a multi-layered Björk for the most part, that step around each other, slowly and deliberately, rather like pairs of legs dancing an intimate Argentinian Tango. The pace is meditative and there is little regard to musical structure, even notation. You won’t find many choruses on Utopia and the melodies are small details woven into the overall soundscape. The major features of that soundscape are a twelve piece flute orchestra, recordings of birdsong in the wild, the Hamrahlíðarkórinn choir, harps, cello, harmonic whirlies and electronica. Even the electronica is light and airy, perfectly complimenting the beauty of the natural elements. The effect is enchanting. At its best, Utopia floats, almost like an out-of-body experience.
At 72 minutes and fourteen tracks long, dedicated Björk fans will be delighted, but Utopia, for all its gorgeousness, requires patience and perseverance to fully appreciate, qualities sadly lacking in the modern Tinder world. Björk remains an avant garde artist but Utopia feels like a consolidation. Her first recording was an instrumental, performed on a flute. She, herself, was a member of the Hamrahlíðarkórinn choir. She has now been working with Arca since 2011. The music was composed as she went for long walks in the dramatic landscape of her homeland, Iceland. Utopia is the sound of Björk healing wounds by keeping close to home and emerging refreshed, determined and glowing with hope. There is plenty of life in her yet.
What does it all *mean*?
There is hope for us all.
Afterworders will be delighted to learn that on Feature Creatures, Björk declares “When I spot someone who is same height as you and goes to same record stores, I literally think I am five minutes away from love.”
Goes well with…
Holding your loved ones close.
Might suit people who like…
Björk. Those that don’t will struggle.