Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bjork - Utopia Review

It was proven two decades ago that Bjork's imagination knows no bounds. She's developed the state of numerous genres whilst keeping ones virtually extinct under her umbrella. Arguments could be made that Bjork, more so than any other musician, has incorporated the highest number of genres into her music. It's easily in the dozens. And yet, why is it that, when finally getting into the thick brush of her utopia, a place where fanciful sounds far and wide should've come to gather, the creativity instead diminishes and retreats into a sheltered cove of finite ideas? In some sense, that was likely Bjork's goal all along, to strip what darkens this world, leaving a bright white spot that offered a restricted form of beauty. The issue then arises in a lack of opposition. Her last LP, Vulnicura, flourished because of this resistance. It was Bjork, defiant feminine power, weakened by the destruction of love, and the ensuing fray of good versus evil that that caused. After enduring such perils, retreating into her Utopia, with Arca by her side, makes sense. However, the lengthy stay in Bjork's crystalized promised land offers little in the way of ingenuity.

Vulnicura was marketed far and wide as Bjork's darkest album yet, one that confronted the topic of divorce and the lengthy healing process that followed. Each track was even appended a timestamp on the booklet (ex. 'Black Lake' was two months after), exhibiting the status of Bjork's mental health along the writing process. It then stands to reason that Utopia exists in the aftermath, an album that separates itself not only from the uncertainty of romance, but the twilight of our modern cultural climate. There's talk of adolescent crushes ('Blissing Me'), first kisses ('Arisen My Senses'), nature ('Claimstaker'), and starting anew ('Tabula Rasa'). When Bjork confronts her turbulent past, on songs like 'Sue Me,' which speaks on behalf of the custody battle over her daughter, and 'Body Memory,' the impressive 10-minute behemoth that responds to the loss and dejection of 'Black Lake,' she examines those instances from a distance. Existing in her bubble, deflecting any darkness that could encroach, Bjork arguably embraces her music as art more so than ever. And that's quite the statement, given her track record. That's not speaking on behalf of the quality, merely Bjork's infatuation with it.

If we're to include personal bias, as I always do with my reviews, Utopia never stood a chance. Vespertine, her lauded 2001 album that ditched the Electronic bombast in favor of cold serenity and sooting sensuality, is my least favorite of those I'm familiar with (everything excluding Volta and Biophilia). There's just not enough meat on the bone. And much like Vespertine, Utopia followed an album ripe with complex imagery, jarring set pieces, and comprehensive production. By comparison, the lingering strings and occasional Glitch-based beats provided by Arca just don't evoke enough variation to justify the hour and 12-minutes, by far the longest album in her discography. Does the blame of influence rest solely on Arca, someone who was brought on to Vulnicura late only to add the string sections we see in surplus here? Not entirely. But you bet, given the resemblance to Arca's self-titled earlier in the year, that his hand held Bjork's equally along the way. His production, no doubt, is futuristic and a sign of things to come. But it's also severely confined, relying on the same noises, pacing, and vibrancy to gather a completed piece. Due to this, many of Utopia's cuts, like 'Tabula Rasa' or lead single 'The Gate,' just exist as components of Bjork's paradise, not adding to it in any meaningful way.

Don't get me wrong, beauty drifts around every corner, as Bjork's vocals float like fluffy clouds in the atmosphere, and if you're one for fully immersing yourself in that aesthetic, Utopia will be rapturous. Not everything is a bore. Opener 'Arisen My Senses' echoes deep with such brilliant drums, as 'Saint,' the album's best track, hypnotizes with Bjork's multi-layered gentility. 'Future Forever' closes Utopia with a transcendent beam of hope, demonstrating just how much Bjork and Arca can do emotionally with so little sonically. And 'Body Memory' shimmers with such cinematic grit, like Kate Bush at her most theatrical, that they'll always be something of value lurking in the shadows. Bjork's vision of Utopia, in her eyes, has been executed brilliantly. See to the album's promotional material, and all the extravagant wear the singer drapes herself in. There isn't a single insidious color in the bunch. Light shades of pink, white, blue, and yellow compose the entirety of her ensemble. That's reflected in the music thoroughly. It's just, maybe a utopia isn't that if some colors, some perspectives in life, are neglected and outright denied?


1 comment: