Drawer B

Vespertine

Strap on a dead bird, and curl up next to a volcano—it’s the new Björk album ! With another set of icy cool
electronics, random sputters and whirs, Björk 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. Björk’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 cliché”, but I could listen to Björk 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 Björk’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. Björk’s never been quite so loveydovey
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 Björk 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 Björk’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 Björk’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. Björk’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 Björk 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 Björk’s full throttle
wail on the glacial “Aurora.”

The pulsating deviance of “Heirloom” slinks and skitters as Björk 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, Björk turns lyrical nonsense into an affecting, dramatic piece by virtue of her glorious
inflection. Björk’s voice often bails her out of sticky situations, almost to the point where you’d forgive
her any misdoing.

Finally, on “Unison” Björk 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 Björk’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 Björk’s finest albums.

Eric Greenwood

publié dans Drawer B - 09.10.2001

 

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Drawer B