One Little Indian
Björk has called ninth studio album Utopia her “tinder album”, most likely a reference to single life since a 2015 separation from her long term partner (as detailed with some venom of 2015 record Vulnicura). It’s fitting then that Utopia plays out like a celebration of Björk’s new life, a salute to herself and her brighter than ever future.
Utopia starts like most other Björk albums, full of lush ethereal tones, voices and electronics. The album is otherworldly, a completely cerebral experience for the listener – more so than any of her previous records, which tend to encompass more pop elements. Songs like Body Memory, Arisen My Senses and Utopia display her knack of creating a universe within a song, with layer upon layer of ever expanding rooms of noise, forever changing in size, depth and acoustics. Upon each listen, a new quirk can always be discovered.
The tracks are as diverse as we have come to expect, combining chirping birds, children laughing, men growling, chanting choirs, angelic harmonies, extreme tongue rolling, electrical crackling, aural fuzz, global instruments, traditional instruments (a lot of flute), classical instruments, electronic drumming, off-kilter samples, and of course, Björk’s iconic voice, which ranges something straight from the heavens, to harsh and coy.
The album is a long one, at 71 minutes it’s her longest to date in fact. This is indicative of Björk’s new found confidence in herself and her skills, which are profoundly executed in Utopia. Utopia is a dense, rich experience that is full of colour and texture, but some may argue that the album lacks the driving punch that previous Björk albums had. That is the beauty of Utopia however – the detail, the unapologetic artistic vision. Apart from Sue Me, which is as pop as the album gets (and ever so eloquently takes aim at the patriarchy), the rest of the album is an exploration of the mind and sounds.
Throughout Utopia, Björk interrogates every note like only she can; it is perfectly and brilliantly thought out. In all this in-depth investigation though, there is an overarching theme of uplifting and the truly human spirit. This is no doubt thanks to Björk’s extraordinary delivery, but also because the album is not held down by any steady beat or rhythm. Instead it kind of floats and dances about, completely unrooted. It is organic and free. A nod to her ‘tinder life’ perhaps – her new found self and freedom.
Lyrically speaking, Björk – through all the musical layers and fuzz – makes it known Utopia is a positive album. Unlike Vulcincura, which was quite heartbreaking at times, on Utopia Björk pokes lighthearted fun at the harsh realities of dating in the modern world. In The Gate she sings about her heart healing “my healed chest wound, transformed into a gate, where I receive love from”. In Features Creatures she alludes to the pains of having loved and lost, but also at the excitement of falling in love again: “when I spot someone who is the same height as you, and goes to the same record store, I think I am five minutes away from love”.
The most telling lyrics on the album though, are those on the poetically placed last track Future Forever; “See this possible future and be in it”; “Hold fort for love forever”; “ Build a musical scaffolding, between asleep and awake”. As these words echo back to the listener, you realise Björk still very much believes in love, she is not broken at all; in fact, she is strengthened and renewed.