Album of the Week: Bjork, 'Utopia'

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Bjork, 'Utopia'
Bjork, 'Utopia' (One Little Indian Records)
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Bjork is one of the most divisive artists that we play. There have been several emails imploring The Current never to play her again, which we very rarely get for anyone else. Some however are ardent, intimate fans of her work, who would consider traveling to Iceland in hope of bumping into her, and the album was the number one seller at the Electric Fetus the week of it's release. You either love her or hate her, so nothing I will say here is going to change your mind.

At this point she can't really be compared to a lot of the other artists we play. She's transcended the pop music world to reign supreme in one of her own making. Incorporating visual art into her career to the point that she had a retrospective at MOMA NYC last year and her videos and even every still photograph that is released of her, is microscopically detailed, flamboyant to the point of seemingly coming from another world. That's significant because she still spends a lot of time in her Icelandic home, which travelers often describe as appearing to be the moon or another planet. This album is bolstered by a specially constructed Icelandic orchestra of flutes and laced with native bird song, which is rare as there are very few trees on the island thanks to the Vikings! It's especially strange then to hear her sing of having a forest within her, as if she is creating a self proclaimed paradise. At the end of the album when all the skittering drum beats completely fall away there's even a short instrumental track created from the bird sounds called "Paradisia".

But as Executive Director Olga Viso explained in the Walker Art Center's brochure for it's new show about Cuba, "Adios Utopia", any utopia never really exists, it's an idea, a yearning, an horizon to strive towards. Which is why it's a perfect title for this album, as Bjork attempts to look for a way out of the grief caused by Matthew Barney, world renowned artist and her former partner and father to her daughter. Sometimes, as detractors will point out, her vocal stylings can be shrill, piercing, hard to take and even harder to comprehend. So it's startling when the words are clear and recognizable, such as on tracks specifically referring to the break-up, like "Sue Me" which Barney apparently did in 2015. And on the key track "Tabula Rasa" where she uses words that the FCC would rather us not let you hear to demand that there's a clean slate for all our children that is not tarnished by the mistakes of their fathers.

For me the album is a tad too long. At 72 minutes it's a lot to take in at one sitting. And don't be put off by the first track which has all the elements that her critics deride piled on top of one another; the operatic vocal gymnastics which don't seem to adhere to any melody or recognizable song structure, flutes, harps and the complex beat making of her producer and co-creator Arca. It's as if she says right away, "Can you take all of me?!" "Arisen My Senses" is an apt title for it then, but for the rest of the trip you can rest assured that your senses will never be attacked so incessantly.

Those experimental sounding electronic assaults are more balanced throughout the rest of the album and fall away completely by the end when she arrives to "Paradisia". Here we find her dreaming of a matriarchal utopia, as if Arca's male presence is really not necessary. Some listeners may agree and in fact she has plans apparently to perform the album entirely with only flute accompaniment. Which suggests that it will be difficult to see or hear this work at the huge festivals all across the planet that the music business demands an artist of her status appears at. She should be able to stay in Iceland and have everyone go to Reykjavik's wonderful Harpa concert hall to see her, or at least be afforded the right to use opera houses and orchestra halls instead. Yes, she's different, difficult and wonderfully divisive and thank goddess for that.

Resources


Bjork - Official Site

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