Last time we were allowed to visit the planet of Björk, it was quite an unsettling experience. Selmasongs— the soundtrack album to Dancer In The Dark, in which our favourite Icelander also made her acting debut —was ambitious and orchestrally expansive but rather unpleasant to listen to if you’d actually endured Lars Von Trier’s soul-scarring film ; memories of that manipulative, inexorably tragic movie weighed down the record like rocks in a sack of abandoned puppies. Luckily there’s no such emotional baggage with this, Björk’s fourth studio album.
Much has been made of the title. Broadly, Vespertine means “relating to the evening” or, more accurately, flourishing in the evening. It’s not a rave-all-night party album from the Basement Jaxx school of jumping up and down, though, more of a winding-down, reflective, glass-of-Cabernet-in-front-of-a-roaring-log- fire vibe.
In interview, she’s described it as “very much about being alone in your house”, and this sense of privacy —both social and emotional—runs like a gossamer thread through the entire collection. We’re pretty used to being intimate with Björk—remember when, on Debut, she recorded the vocal for There’s More To Life Than This in the toilet of a London club ?—but this is closeness without the insulation of playfulness. One of the more heart-stopping moments is at the end of Pagan Poetry ; after Björk’s rhapsodised over synthy bass, icicle strings and hissing beats for a good few minutes, everything drops away, leaving her nakedly singing “I love him, I love him” over and over like a defensive mantra.
But while Vespertine sees Björk often sounding as if she’s confiding her secrets to the listener - gymnastic sonic whispers that electrify and amaze—it’s worth remembering that she’s already shared all this stuff with a minibus-load of collaborators. As well as harpist Zeena Parkins and programmers Valgeir Sigurdsson and Marius de Vries, she’s also re-recruited her Dancer In The Dark arranger Vince Mendoza and procured the services of San Fransisco laptop kings Matmos.
Additionally, she’s borrowed Sun In My Mouth, a poem by ee cummings, and turned it into a beautiful, mother-of-pearl sonic trinket.
Built on a foundation of babbling-brook beats, chiming strings and unhurried arrangements, the album manages to encompass the most impressively cold, crammed beats of modern electronica and breathe some pastoral warmth into them. Sure, the building blocks of Heirloom are the sounds of keystrokes and staplers, but Björk’s voice—that unique instrument—helps transform it into a proper song. “You make me feel better,” she yodels, but it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship.
Apparently, parts of the album were recorded on a laptop in a moutain hut in her motherland, and it’s pleasing to think that some of the dislocating physical juxtapostion of the natural and the techological found its way inside the record. Verspertine signals Björk’s ascension to yet another glacial level of otherworldly endeavor, and represents her best, most nourishing work since that first sparkling surprise, Debut.