10 December 2017

Björk - Utopia

Björk is an artist that seems to recevie praise and love in equal measure, but at the moment, she seems to be being held with those delicate white gloves you see historians and art dealers use.  This is her first album since Vulnicura (our review linked here), a record that gave her emotional turmoil a voice to be heard across the globe.  Whilst that is a beautiful, heartbreaking and stunning record, it's not one I would play on a regular basis.  But Björk is an artist I do listen to a lot, her voice has always been one that I have admired. Björk has stated in interviews that this is her "Tinder" album, the record that shows she is ready to start dating and to find a new mate.  But does it sound good?

01 – Arisen my Senses

After the dark and wounded Vulnicura, “Arisen my Senses” sounds like fireworks, a release of emotional turmoil as the nightmare turns positive and love returns to the world.  As you expect from Björk, it’s a crazy, outlandish song, one that loops harps, harsh electronic beats and her own vocals.  It’s a beautiful song, a very powerful opening!

02 – Blissing Me

“Blissing Me” is a song about falling in love, whilst swapping music with a potential lover.  It has some beautiful words, the vocals are light and delicate, whilst the bass is brash and overpowering in places.  “Blissing Me” is a decent number, your average Björk song which sometimes goes OTT, but you’ve come to expect that at the point with Björk.

03 – The Gate

The first single to be released from Utopia, which is primarily a song based around a recorder and with fleeting lulls in sound.  It’s one that does not move too far, even when there are layers added to the song, it is still an empty song, even with declarations of love and a return to humanity being screamed into the void as she escapes its clutches.  It’s not my cup of tea, it feels too empty for me to gain attachment, so I will move onto the next song. 

04 – Utopia

With bird calls being recreated, Utopia is Björk’s safe haven given musical closure to her wounded soul, a dream state that has been brought into this world.  Much like “The Gate” before it, “Utopia” is a slow burner and it doesn’t give anything away easily, much like a lover who is protecting herself after a loss.  You’re permitted in as an observer to this world, through this organic number, which sometimes goes a little too leftfield, even for me.

05 – Body Memory

“Body Memory” is a song about the outdoors, being lost in the wild and how nature can be a tad annoying in places as well. We have another conflicted Björk performance, with Björk wrestling with the music, fighting to get every word out of her body as she is attempting to gain control over this natural angry that is in her, which is shown in a primal bark that is added to the mix.  “Body Memory” is an incredibly interesting song, but not one which is gonna make things easy for you.

06 – Features Creatures

“Features Creatures” starts off as a vocal only performance, one where the words are sung to the void about a lover who is close enough to touch.  Slowly, wood instruments join in and there is a pagan feeling added to the song, with drops of electronica every now and then to remind you it’s 2017.  At first, I thought the extra instruments which were added ruined the song, as Björk sounded in fine form on her own.  Now, I think that they were added to give this song more substance, but I think they were ultimately misplaced. 

07 – Courtship

“Courtship” sounds like birds dancing around each other, with plumage in bloom and rejection just being a tinder-swipe away.  This looks at dating in the digital age, where people swipe left and right depending on mood.  “Courtship” is the first song where the chaos of the minimalist music, the words and performance come together in union, creating a song that looks at the world with horror and amusement in equal measure.

08 – Losss

“Losss” is an echo back to the themes of Vulnicura where those previously forgotten emotions have resurfaced, causing a fresh sting these conflicting feelings are given flesh in the harsh electronica of this song.  “Losss” is a song that acknowledges the past, pays tribute once again to those darker moments, and sorts of falls apart towards the end into a void of tears.  This is the strongest song on offer here, it is bold, beautiful and fragile.  It also brings up a problem, as it is a throw-back to Vulnicura, it also highlights how great that album is, thus undoing the work of the previous seven songs.  So, a great number, but also slightly awkward in the grand scheme of things as well.

09 – Sue Me

“Sue Me” is a really harsh number to hear, a bitter custody battle laid over one of the most dramatic pieces of electronica I have heard this year.  The contrast of the music to the vocals, the raised tempo and tone when the anger comes to the forefront, it’s a beautiful song and one filled with a Mother’s rage.  Remind me never to piss Björk off…… However, in all honesty, this is a great number, just not an easy listen, this seems to bring the best out of Björk.  It’s just a shame that she is having to go through this situation, you wouldn’t really wish that on your worst enemy.

10 – Tabula Rasa

“Tabula Rasa” is about feeling guilty for the mess that our generation is leaving for our children and younger relatives, how we are leaving a planet in decline.  It’s a harsh one once again, with hopes and fears once again.  But the tune is sort of one dimensional for me, the lyrics feel at odds with the music and it doesn’t make enough impact to be written off as art.  So, onto the next one……

11 – Claimstaker

“Claimstaker” is all about Björk’s relationship with nature, how the natural world around her affected her development into an adult, and how it continues to have a resonance in her being.  It’s one of the few songs on here which is seems liberated from the stresses of life.  In that sense, Claimstaker is a rare creature on this record, free and able to soar over the skies.  It is a ray of light in her heart, something which is beautiful to hear.

12 – Paradisia

“Paradisia” is a brief interlude, just under two minutes long and whilst it’s nice enough, it doesn’t really do anything.  So, onto the next one…..

13 – Saint

“Saint” is a representation of music, clad in human form and how it’s helped Björk (and by extension, other people through unlimited love, patience and compassion).  The music starts off complicated, but as the knots/issues/tensions are undone and removed, the song changes into something else.  The multi-layered vocals which represent other people who are asking for assistance (all sung slightly out of time), is off-putting, even if it is artistically required.  But it is an emotive song with a powerful message, one which I agree with – music can heal all.

14 – Future Forever

“Future Forever” ends the album with a stripped back track, looking towards tomorrow and trying to find hope.  There is an innocent energy to the song, a hope that tomorrow is truly going to be better than today, and that the bad times are behind us.  It’s a gentle come down for this album, one of my favourite on this record, as it takes a lot of the chaos of Björk’s sound on Utopia and leaves it to the side.  Her voice is beautiful, so to hear it by itself (for the most part) is refreshing.

It seems as if you’re not allowed to be negative about Björk these days. There is a movement I have noticed in the press and amongst the fans, which shield her from criticism, as if she has reached that artistic level where she receives praise for everything, with people throwing roses for performances which are not up to her own high standard.  I don't think Björk is beyond criticism, so it pains me to find Utopia is not quite the dream state I was hoping for.  Utopia is an album with some beautiful moments that get swamped with her own music deviations, and her inability to know when to stop adding.  It’s a joy to hear the happiness in her voice again when it comes to the forefront, after Vulnicura I was sort of worried that it would be darkness evermore.  But Avant-garde music is never meant to be easy, and Utopia is a lover’s Avant-garde album.  It is wary of letting you in, you can tell someone has been there before and is determined not to be hurt again.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that Utopia is not an interesting record, one which must have been another cathartic release for Björk.  However, it’s a tad too long, it works best when it is at its darkest and it followed her career-defining moment, so it’s been damned to a hiding for nothing in some ways.  There is still a hangover feeling to this record in place, as we find Björk getting on her feet again.  It’s a strange one, with its battle wounds, hopes, fears and dreams all at once, but it’s still a closed book in places.  With Utopia, Björk has come back from the darkness and found a sanctuary of sorts, but it needed the smallest amount of tweaking to let us in.  It might seem weird that I am giving Utopia the mark I am, considering I have just sort of blasted it, but Utopia is still a good album, just not by Björk’s own measuring stick.

8 out of ten –

Top track – Claimstaker

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