Björk - Utopia ★★★★★

Record Collector #474, 1er décembre 2017

Visions of paradise

For an artist who’d spent the previous decade exploring increasingly abstract themes, the emotional directness of Björk’s previous album Vulnicura was striking. Recorded after the breakup of a 13-year relationship, the pain woven into the music’s fabric was palpable ; a fact made plain during visibly cathartic live performances. Yet, much like the time leading up to Homogenic (an album conceived in similarly acute personal crisis), the aftermath proved to be creatively fertile, resulting in her most vital work in years.

Two years in the making, this follow-up has been billed as “sex, love and utopia-fuelled”. It finds Björk exulting in the throes of new love. Blessed with a lighter feel than its predecessor, the sinister strings of Vulnicura have been replaced by the airiness of a 12-piece flute ensemble (arranged and conducted by Björk) alongside plenty of softly plucked harps and a cavalcade of field recordings. Preceding single The Gate gave a hint of what was to come ; its gentle flutes, fantastical animal cries and slowly repeated intonations of “I care for you” underscored by synth swooshes and electronic pulses.

It’s a long way from being her “chill out” album however. The majority of her most enduring work has been the result of her particularly headstrong, singular vision but recently her collaboration with the Chilean producer Arca has evidently been a source of real inspiration. He invested Vulnicura with much of its spikiness and is on board again ; co-producing all but one of the tracks. His presence is writ large ; most explicitly through his distinctive beats and electronic flourishes but perhaps more pertinently as a catalyst for the creative rejuvenation he has brought about in his more senior collaborator.

Björk’s evocation of her personal utopia is warm, exultant and fantastical, but also determinedly avant-garde. It shares the intensity and drama of its predecessor alongside a predilection for the juxtaposition of fragile beauty with jagged brutality. Thus the delicate, sweetly-plucked harps and warm vocal melodies of opening tracks Arisen My Senses and Blissing Me are paired with beats that are either thunderous or curiously off-rhythm. Fantasias such as the title track or Paradisa call to mind the paintings of Henri Rousseau, featuring exotic birdcalls offset with atonal flute.

New relationships form the basis of a remarkable sequence of songs at the centre of the album ; the dark-hued, wind-harried Body Memory (whose wildly creative use of vocals and anatomical obsession recalls Medulla), detailing post-relationship doubt. On Features Creatures, gale-like synths and swooping flutes cascade around an intimate, strikingly dramatic vocal performance as she describes meeting someone with the same beard and accent as a lover. On the exquisite, grandly orchestral Tabula Rasa she opines “I hope to give you the least amount of luggage/got a right to make your own fresh mistakes”.

It’s a dense, lengthy work (at 71 minutes the longest studio album of her career). Only one song, the ecstatic, pulsating techno of Sue Me, is likely to work on the dancefloor. Yet the errant, raucous confluence of sounds and styles has a homogeneity that works to create a beguiling, and ultimately hugely rewarding whole.

publié dans Record Collector #474