(By Miguel Anderson)
(Photo by Warren from Preez & Nick Thornton-Jones)
Björk is back with her “tinder” record that is a wound in the process of recovering. She is full of hope and newfound love, a departure from Vulnicura, the breakup record which marked the end of the inspiring (and die-hard) Vespertine era and her relationship with Matthew Barney. She starts anew on Utopia, inspired, optimistic, and hopeful for the future.
In 2001, Björk released Vespertine, an album that was a showcase of her strong-willed love for her then-new marriage with Matthew Barney. Vespertine captured the intimacies of love (“Pagan Poetry” & “Cocoon”) and covered the emotions felt being in love (“It’s Not Up To You” & “Hidden Place”) in lush expression and lyrical value. She sang with passionate raw emotion, sometimes describing explicitly what physicalities and emotions drew this special feeling. One could say that this is the Björk that was passionately in love. Now fast forward to 2015, to the breakup album Vulnicura. We see Björk take on themes of melancholy, sorrow, and sentiment as she recalls this breakup. She describes in prolific detail about it, taking note of every event and feeling covered that leads to the eventual split, including wanting to salvage the relationship once lost & questioning (“Stonemilker” & “Lionsong”), the final moments of intimacy (“History of Touches”), the dismantle of the family & rage felt (“Black Lake” & “Family”), and the confront of the sorrow and split altogether (“Notget”). She even added production play where the listener could hear the breakdown of the relationship with glitch-pop and swift changes in instrumentation, as tempos pick up and slow down again to display the intense emotions felt. This album single-handedly ended the Vespertine era, which was about love and lust, and was now overthrown by Vulnicura, an emotional plague of depression that opened a bittersweet wound full of gloom.
Now, Björk is facing utopia. Her open-chested wound has started to heal and transform into optimism, assurance, and hope. She is inspired, in love, an admirer and no longer in distraught. The first tracks of the album showcase an ode, one to display how far the wound has healed, giving off splendor, warmth, and love. Harps, light flute melodies, colorful grandeur synths, and vibrant animal noises cover every corner of Utopia to back up the song with vibrant colors and soaring sounds. Explosive splendor synths, chiseled cymbal paradiddles, and a mystical harp arrangement set the stage on “Arisen My Senses,” and for the rest of Utopia. “Just that kiss…” Björk sings in melody, “Was all there is.” she sings with a breathe, a song about the realization of love to all her senses. “The Gate”, “Utopia”, and “Body Memory” shows Björk for all what Utopia is at this moment, her wound healed. They find her at her best, assured and able to love again. “Features Creatures” calls Björk regaining her ability to love again once lost, bringing her sexuality and attraction to the front.
As the wound is continuing to recover, Björk still hurts. Darkness and the same breaks of glitch-pop and swift changes in instrumentation arise on Utopia. “Courtship” leads the listener up to this darkness, acting as a grand transition from the light & airy to the dark & suffered. It’s a fast tempo track with only a little air time to ventilate recalling her time with Barney once again as she did on Vulnicura. Themes of darkness then build out further on “Losss” and “Sue Me” as the past relationship with her ex still haunts her. Lyrics on these tracks take on themes of sentiment, assertiveness, and universal truth. “We all are struggling, just doing our best / We’ve gone through the grinder, suffered loss.” Björk sings on “Losss,” directly talking about the past detrimental Vulnicura. However, as Vulnicura and Barney hurt her so, she asserts herself in “Sue Me” finally regaining ground as she is no longer hurt. She demands Matthew, through a custody battle for their daughter Isadora, integrity and maturity; to step up to the plate to a fight she does not wish to take part in. She is found at her most vulnerable, the most powerful.
In the last final tracks of Utopia, Björk’s wounds have healed. She finds her utopia and shares her final hope for the future. Her utopia is revealed through her intricate relationship with music and nature; essential callings Björk has made clear album to album. Then, on “Future Forever,” a delicate ending, Björk shares a utopia where we can all take part in and does this using glimmery synths and organ-like chords to back her up, a future with endless possibilities. “Imagine a future and be in it.” she wisps calmly, forming her dream. A future that we can look forward to if we believe in it so, it can come true she forms. This pushes us to be optimistic and forward-thinking; Björk’s true wish.