Björk is one of those artists that can truly surprise her listeners by just being herself. Each release from her decades long career has felt like a reintroduction, with her emerging from the time spent in-between with a whole new world of sound for the listener to enjoy. The last time Björk allowed us into her universe was in 2015, when we saw the Icelandic singer dealing with the separation from her longtime partner.
Vulnicura was an album that needed to be made; the wounds of that romance were fresh and Björk wanted us to feel it too. It was a dark and, at times, overwhelming personal story of grief met with equally heavy production from the likes of Haxan Cloak and Arca.
With an album tour and a special edition string version of the album behind her, fans began to wonder how long she was going to be in this place of hurt.
But earlier this year, in an interview with herself, Björk signaled it was time to rebuild her world once again; “after tragedies one has to invent a new world…you have to imagine something that doesn’t exist and dig a cave into the future and demand space.” And that reinvention comes in the form of her latest record, Utopia, an album bursting with life and love.
Gone immediately are the heavy drums and bass driven nature we heard on Vulnicura, replaced with flutes, synths and even bird noises that tie the album to Björk’s favorite muse, nature. Arca is once again on production duties but he takes a more subdued approach this time, working with Björk to create an earthy sound that feels like a sunrise on a new morning.
Opener, ‘Awaken My Senses’ showcases this perfectly. Among burst of twinkling synths and harps Björk sings of a love that has “every cell in my body lined up for you”. It’s a beautiful sentiment that defines every song on Utopia, a love for another person of course, most clearly defined on the beautiful single ‘Blissing Me’. Here Björk talks about “two music nerds” who can’t stop texting each other, but it’s also an album very much in love with the world that sprung it to life.
All over Utopia Björk sings of the first snows of Winter and forests, but where one might see the oppressive and lonely view of nature she finds the beauty. On a track like ‘Tabula Rasa’, a title which describes a place where something once stood, she sings of cleaning up and attempting to “breal the chain of fuck-ups of the fathers.” And even on ‘Losss’, with it’s gorgeous flute backing, Björk finds “flora blooming softly” in the face of great trauma.
This isn’t to say that every track feels as necessary to the conveying of this feeling though. At over an hour the album feels a little over stuffed with ideas, and towards the middle loses steam, but only for a moment. When Björk focuses on achieving this utopia in her mind the album soars.
In a way this makes the title of the album all the more special. Since the dawn of man this attempt to find or make a utopia has been at the forefront of our minds and actions. But, rather smartly, Björk knows that finding a solution for everyone is impossible. She’s just happy digging in that cave of hers striving to find the light to a new world. On the lead single, ‘The Gate’, Björk sings of healed wounds and a gate within her opening. She’s been hurt but she has now carved her own little heaven where she stands, and with Utopia she is asking us to take that step through with her.
Utopia is out now on One Little Indian.