Bjork
Utopia


3.5
great

Review

by Tunaboy45 USER (28 Reviews)
December 31st, 2017 | 33 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: She took it all too far, but boy could she play the flute.

Both personally and in the grander scale of things, 2017 has been a turbulent and uncertain year (to put it lightly). The political landscape changed dramatically as the US ahem welcomed in their new President, the Brexit negations got underway with all the enthusiasm of a convict walking to the gallows and Theresa May shot herself in the foot in June to the amusement of the entire country. In the glamorous world of entertainment, everyone had to act as shocked as convincingly possible when well-known secrets about outstanding fellows like Weinstein and Spacey were revealed. No one was safe, not even sacred cows like Jesse Lacey. Oh, and Boro were relegated. Again. In my own life, I had a change of scenery in the form of moving away to university on top of ending what can only described as the most toxic relationship in human history- an emotionally exhausting experience that took a fair few months to properly recover from. The point I'm making here is that it's been a year of disquietude.

So how does this relate to Björk's brand new tootcore album, Utopia? Well here's the thing; it doesn't, not directly anyway. Utopia is an album that, whilst making some effort to address current social issues like many artists have felt obliged to this year, offers pure wide-eyed escapism in a time that couldn't be further from what the manifesto of Utopia offers. In hindsight, the lead single "The Gate" may have misled us slightly, despite lyrically dealing in themes that recur throughout the album. From its structureless, mysterious ambience many were led to believe this would be Björk's foray into the world of ambient music- having dabbled in it previously, most notably on albums such as the still underrated Biophilia. "The Gate" sounds like it was made on another planet in another dimension, but there is enough familiarity in Björk's vocals to prevent the listener from feeling lost or alienated by the abstract instrumentation, guiding them through the song. Like "The Gate", Utopia is airy and hard to pin down but not without its moments of levity. Yes folks, this is indeed Björk's 'Tinder album' and she doesn't waste any time making sure her audience knows it as she repeatedly chants ”I care for you… if you care for me!”

Make no mistake- this is some of the most straightforward and revealing lyricism ever penned by Björk. This is both a blessing and a curse, and no song embodies that better than "Blissing Me", one of the more stripped back arrangements on the album, especially when compared to the grandiose and perhaps overblown opener "Arisen My Senses". On the one hand you have Björk telling a sweet tale of two people making a genuine human connection over mutual interests and how it feels to fall in love, but at the same time it's easy to wonder why Björk focuses on strange details such as MP3 file formats. Maybe it's just because we're more used to hearing her discuss love in a more abstract and naturalistic way, but it just sounds out of place and unnecessary- especially when “Arisen My Senses” deals with similar themes in a similar but more refined way. That isn't to say “Blissing Me” is a bad song, far from it. The melody may be simplistic and repetitive, but it still succeeds in being endearing, clumsiness notwithstanding.

The flutes on Utopia were hyped rather heavily in the promotion for the album, and though it takes some time for them to make a substantial appearance, it's nothing short of thrilling when they do. The title track thrusts the listener unto a world of majestic arrangements, and it perfectly sets the atmosphere of a world free of pain, conveying the idea that sometimes you just have to look around to realise things aren't as bad as they seem to be. Here, Björk and Arca have crafted a perfect example of how technology and traditional instrumentation can work hand in hand to create a work of beauty. The electronic flourishes are vivid and lend a real sense of vibrancy but also mystery to the song, and Björk's soaring vocals simply reinforce the wondrous atmosphere. This is Utopia at its best- exciting, unique and completely unbound by any artistic limitations or expectations. It's hard not to get swept away by the sheer optimism of the title track or the triumphant "Body Memory", where Björk once and for all buries the hatchet on the emotional nightmare for her that was the Vulnicura era.

And it is here we encounter the main issue with Utopia as a body of work- it's just too damn long. At an intimidating 71 minutes, the album gradually loses steam and although there are highlights to be found later on in the tracklist, chiefly the infectiously hopeful "Future Forever", it simply can't make good on the promises made by the first five tracks- which I would consider one of the best runs of songs of any Björk album. Interludes such as "Claimstaker" and "Paradisia" are solid tonal exercises and in theory they help to reinforce the majestic nature of the album, but in reality all they do is pad out an already bloated album. "Sue Me" tells the deeply personal story of Björk's custody battle with Matthew Barney over their daughter and I have the utmost respect for her for mustering the courage to directly tell him "I won't let her get cut in half", but it's also the most sloppily produced cut from the album and simply doesn't showcase any of Arca's previously proven prowess. There's a dissonance between what's going on lyrically with the song and the beats, which leaves the "Sue Me" feeling directionless and in the process, it completely undersells the talents of both Björk and Arca.

In many ways the beautiful flute arrangements carry the latter portion of the album, encouraging the listener to see how they evolve regardless of whether they clash with the electronics. Songs transition into each other without a particularly satisfying conclusion and it all begins to blur together. One could argue the album simply becomes too abstract and inaccessible for its own good, and instead of employing such qualities to take her music in captivating new directions like on “The Gate”, Björk begins to use them to the overall detriment of the album’s sense of direction and flow. Being avant-garde and obtuse for the sake of it, if you will. As undoubtedly stunning as the chorus of flutes is on “Tabula Rasa”, it doesn’t change the fact that the track barely goes anywhere in its nearly 5 minute runtime and suffers from a severe lack of focus. The flutes essentially save it from being one of the most meandering songs ever produced by Björk.

Utopia’s philosophy of equality and serenity offers a refuge from the tumultuous times we currently live in, and though it ends up running out of steam, there is still much here to admire. Björk’s ambition, especially on the first half of the album, must be appreciated, and the endearing optimism of the lyrics and standout flute sections give the album enough charm to keep the listener’s attention- even when the songs become more homogenous. It may not be able to regain the momentum it loses, but Utopia offers us an album much like 2017 itself; messy, challenging and uncertain, but also hopeful and not without its highlights. Like that promotional image of Björk wearing a strap-on.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Oh look, I did the hackiest thing possible and turned my review into a mini year-end retrospective.



Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it, happy new year!

artiswar
December 31st 2017


13712 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

tootcore

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@Flynn thanks man! glad you liked it

@artiswar my affectionate name for Bjork's take on folktronica

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Glad to hear it bud. I'm definitely going to try and have more reviews out in the next year, mainly because I really enjoy doing it.

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
December 31st 2017


18340 Comments


Fantastic review, Tuna, really well made.

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Appreciate it gonzo

luci
December 31st 2017


12844 Comments


I like how the criticisms aimed at the album are equally fitting for the review itself (too damn long, runs out of steam etc.) Props for making the content match the subject.

hamid95
December 31st 2017


1206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Love this review, agreed on most points. My rating's prob around the 3.7/3.8 mark.

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Thanks! Yeah for me it's around a 3.7, sometimes in that instance I'll round up to a 4 but in this case I feel a 3.5 is more fitting. If this was maybe 15 mins shorter I would've loved it.

SteakByrnes
December 31st 2017


30022 Comments


I still loathe the album cover

SteakByrnes
December 31st 2017


30022 Comments


ur hot

SteakByrnes
December 31st 2017


30022 Comments


no prob bae

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

It's not her best, in fact I think Volta's cover is better

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Absolutely, I consider her one of my favourite artists

PrefrontalCortex
December 31st 2017


128 Comments


let's hope Bjork continues her foray into tootcore

Asdfp277
December 31st 2017


24455 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

bjork is GOAT

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

She's made enough classic albums to get away with the occasional (semi) misfire

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

phonetically, it's 'pyerk'

Tunaboy45
December 31st 2017


18442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

luv u 2 flywaz

polyrhythm
December 31st 2017


2599 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review, my take is a slightly less enthusiastic version of yours



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