By: Eric Greenwood
Strap on a dead bird, and curl up next to a volcano- it"s the new Bjork album! With another set of icy cool electronics, random sputters and whirs, Bjork spills her guts at a much slower pace than usual. It"s all immaculately produced, of course, but rather lacking in surprise. No worries, though. Bjork"s voice is enough to distract you from the fact that the "emote over lush landscape" formula may be showing signs of wear. To quote a friend of mine "it may be a clich", but I could listen to Bjork read the phonebook." At the very least it"d be funny hearing how she butchered all the names.
Vespertine, her fourth album, is a very private and complicated affair. Picking out the singles isn"t quite so easy this time, though you"re bound to hit upon them. With Bjork"s prolific single output, the law of averages should be on your side. "Hidden Place", the first one, is only slightly welcoming in its orchestral sweep. It"s got a crackling chorus, though, and it"s quaintly sweet. Bjork"s never been quite so lovey-dovey before: "he"s the beautifullest, fragilest, still strong/dark and divine/and the littleness of his movements/hides himself/he invents a charm that makes him invisible/can I hide there too?" Despite the curious syntax and spelling, her point hits home.
After her emotionally wrenching turn in the most depressing film of all time, Lars von Trier"s Dancer In The Dark, it"s somehow comforting to hear Bjork at peace. She glows when she sings, overpowering the music when she really belts it out. That"s always been her trademark. Wet blips introduce the serene "It"s Not Up To You." The layers of instrumentation reveal how the effects of starring in a musical are spilling over into Bjork"s pop personality. Soundtrack dreamscapes with harps and strings and even a choir of children flower behind her private thoughts: "How do I master/the perfect day/six glasses of water/seven phone calls."
There will be very little dancing whilst listening to Vespertine. It"s an album designed for headphones or solitary confinement. Rumor has it if you listen closely you can hear any number of mundane sounds found around the house, but I have yet to distinguish anything out of the ordinary. The production is typically lavish and pristine, grandiose even. The juxtaposition of Bjork"s lyrical oddities and the universality of her emotions have always placed her in a league of her own, yet Vespertine leaves me wanting somehow. It just takes so much energy to engage this album. Casual listening reaps few rewards, but the deeper I dive in the closer I come to understanding where she"s going with all this.
The sinister prowl of "Pagan Poetry" does all the work for you. Bjork"s sudden fits of guttural muscle always manage to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, especially when they coincide with a surge in musical tension. The song climaxes when Bjork desperately proclaims "I love him" over and over. After such an eerie build up I"m not sure how I would take such a proclamation were I on the receiving end. Matmos remains relatively restrained, providing surprisingly coherent beats behind Bjork"s full throttle wail on the glacial "Aurora."
The pulsating deviance of "Heirloom" slinks and skitters as Bjork recites stream-of-consciousness verse: "my mother and son pour into me/warm glowing oil/into my wide open throat." Not a catchy tune that one but frighteningly seductive all the same. Similarly, on "Harm Of Will", co-written with "filmmaker" Harmony Korine, Bjork turns lyrical nonsense into an affecting, dramatic piece by virtue of her glorious inflection. Bjork"s voice often bails her out of sticky situations, almost to the point where you"d forgive her any misdoing.
Finally, on "Unison" Bjork offers a glimpse of her light-hearted side. The music is bright and uplifting, heightened by her admission that "I never thought I would compromise." The song is an ode to love- an open-faced declaration of intent: "let"s unite tonight/we shouldn"t fight/embrace you tight/let"s unite tonight." It"s a gentle closer, as it subtly makes sense of everything that"s happened before it. The whole album is threaded together by Bjork"s sudden state of happiness. With Vespertine she is stepping away from the commerciality of her previous albums in favor of a more private and evocative sound. As difficult as it is gorgeous, Vespertine ranks among Bjork"s finest albums.