Review Summary: This time, I'm going to keep me all to myself.
On album highlight “Tabula Rasa”, the theme Björk enforces is that of empowerment, and of personal redemption; urging for “us women to rise and not take it lying down”, and to not repeat others’ failures – in specific, her own. Vulnicura
and its sister album Utopia
are, thematically, two sides of the same coin; both feature producer Arca prominently and adding a new depth to Björk’s music, but the Icelandic songstress herself was found in a different frame of mind both times, one of that of a woman in great emotional distress, and of a woman rediscovering love and finding great elation in that magical revelation. Utopia
finds Björk almost bewildered, near ecstatic at the potential the future has for her and her lover; “Blissing Me” has this very potent emotion that lingers about, Björk trying to find it in herself to be in love again, but reassuring herself it’s a relationship merely limited to a mutual interest (“Sending each other MP3s / Falling in love to a song”) – only to resign herself to the fact that she has fallen in love with this individual (“Did I just fall in love with love"”). This constant state of discovery, awakening, and intimacy markedly defines Utopia
, a record that follows a similar path that 2001’s Vespertine
once did with several songs dedicated to Björk’s beloved and the palpable euphoria that laced each and every song.
, being Björk’s longest record yet, slowly burns with greatly atmospheric instrumentation that ranges from waifish vocalizations, to chirping birdsongs, and scatty glitch percussion that clash with Björk’s voice, which at times, like 2004’s Medúlla
, is another instrument in the wide array present on Utopia
, whether it be part of a heavenly choir or a fragile acapella accompaniment. Standouts such as the ten-minute epic “Body Memory”, written as a response to the melancholic “Black Lake”, is worthy of every single minute dedicated to it, evoking images of foggy hillsides and icy landscapes interspersed with the themes of humanity and nature, which Björk uses magnificently to emphasize a personal revival within herself (“Then the body memory kicks in / My warrior awakens / My turn to defend / Urban didn't tame me”) and a conflict against outside forces, both internal and external. “Courtship” juxtaposes airy flutes against uptempo, surging beats; even further lyrically with a concept that is centered around personal relationships through a screen – for the lack of a better word, it’s a song that only proves Björk was half-serious about Utopia
being her “Tinder album”. “Losss’s” vulnerability offers warmth joined with themes of loss, suffering, and overcoming such complications while acknowledging there was a time where there was a mutual respect between the couple, and the desires that came with that respect.
In being so enraptured in its drama, Utopia
features Björk at her most intense; “Sue Me”, a song about the divorcée’s custody battle over her daughter Isodora, is a plea for maturity and dignity from her ex-husband Matthew Barney, who attempted to sue his wife for spending too much time with their child. At her most confrontational, Björk’s frustration is highly substantial, and rightfully so, demanding that their child doesn’t get caught within the crossfire of an already-disastrous ordeal for all parties involved; while also proclaiming that, as the child’s mother, will not “denounce her origin” no matter what. The aforementioned “Tabula Rasa” continues this theme, with an urgency nowhere else to be found on Utopia
despite its abstract composition, whilst “Saint” is the singer’s paean to music itself, and the boundless power it has to heal oneself spiritually and emotionally.
Slowly but surely, Utopia
is conceptually, in some ways, a successor to Vespertine
, an album that honed a distinct sound that couldn’t be replicated; but unlike its spiritual predecessor, Utopia
leaves traces slightly bitter behind, while encouraging its creator that it can, against all odds, move on and begin again. It’s an album that, like Björk’s music itself, grows on you – and even if it doesn’t, you can find a great deal of respect in its sophistication and its intricacies.