Of all the lame and clichéd things to compare music to, sex might just be the most lame and clichéd. This is for a few reasons, one of which is that, well, we don’t really mean it, do we? “This album is better than sex.” Like, actually
? Or maybe the more facetious “this album is boner[s].” Or, oh boy, calling something “orgasmic”. We can’t sincerely compare sex to music because the extent of “sexy” or “orgasmic” in music these days is sex as a process
; if we were to trust most musicians today, sex is probably the most boring, banal procedure out there. Just a dick moving around in various holes.
Read that last sentence again. Did it make you feel uncomfortable? That’s sort of how Vespertine
works. This is sex not as “Let’s go all the way tonight,” (or whatever) but as “Who would have known that a boy like him / would have entered me lightly / restoring my blisses.” Or, as Robert Christgau put it, “Sex, not fu
cking.” Well, yeah
. You don’t fuck
Bjork. In the realm of albums that, in one way or another, can be compared to sex of some kind, this is what makes Vespertine
special. And also very uncomfortable. Most of us are okay with talking about sex, comparing things with sex, etc. as long as we’re not being too serious or too intimate, and this album is both of those. It’s organically sexual instead of blankly so, and Bjork talks to us completely straight-faced, and, though (let’s admit it) that’s a huge turn-on, it’s also awkward. Two of the music videos from the album give us her, naked, in front of a camera, with threads and ribbons coming out of her nipples. The first song is called ”Hidden Place”
. Bjork is here, taking the huge strings-and-beats combination of Homogenic
, and inverting them with little bloops and clicks in your ear (or, as they should be: this is a headphones album, no questions asked) and angelic choirs singing you to sleep. And she’s asking you to fu
ck her. Or, rather, have sex with her.
Okay, I know: this is musician admiration in its creepiest form, right? I mean, that’s not, like, actually
what she’s doing, right? And though how much it affects you may depend on how much you appreciate come-ons like “Let's unite tonight / we shouldn't fight / embrace you tight” (it sounds amazing when she sings it, I swear), Vespertine
is an undoubtedly sexual album. In fact, it’s one of the few “concept” (assuming that sex is a unifying theme, yes) albums that actually sounds like its own subject matter. That’s right, this album sounds like sex
. It’s all contained in opening track “Hidden Place,” with its absolutely astounding this-is-what-Heaven-sounds-like chorus, strings and choirs and whirring beats all present. Then there’s Bjork, her voice as fantastic as it’s ever been but also more controlled than it’s ever been, cooing to us, suggesting that “We go to that hidden place”. It’s celestial, it’s moving, it’s--yes--orgasmic. Vespertine
is that, twelve times over. As pure experience
, it’s among the best albums ever released. “Cocoon,” the track directly after “Hidden Place,” turns the pleading even more inward, Bjork’s voice as up-close and personal as possible, every small crack and seam apparent as she stretches her range to its maximum. “Cocoon,” especially in relation to its preceding track, displays the album’s ability to manipulate its dominating texture and mood in such a way that, even if the tracks are pleasing for approximately the same reason, the album never feels homogeneous.
Then there’s “An Echo, A Stain,” the ultimate example, where she takes the formula and completely implodes it. The lyrics and mood are sexual, yes (“She touched / my arm / and smiled”), but also terrifying and, much like “Cocoon,” disarmingly personal. The lyrics, the breaths in between stanzas, the little bleeps and bloops and the string swells: they’re all right there, travelling through one ear and out the other. When Bjork sings “Feel my breath / down your neck / and your heart / will race,” she knows
that’s a literal statement. In the right context, it’s a fu
cking religious experience.
The essence of Vespertine
, though I may have briefly tricked you into thinking otherwise (my apologies, was just easing you in), is not sex. It’s that it uses its theme in such honest and captivating ways that it transcends sex, or electronic music, or whatever other labels that might be applied to it. This is transporting music, celestial music, music of the fuckin’ heavens
, man. It is, along with Panda Bear’s Person Pitch
, the most staggering album-length achievement by a solo artist this side of the 21st century.