Björk’s ‘Utopia’ Is a Meditative Opus of Optimism
For the experimental pop-princess Björk, making a new album seems to always come with a certain temperament. Her previous work, 2015’s “Vulnicura,” sought to change the precedent for all break-up albums to come by creating a devastatingly dark world filled with harrowing strings and haunted vocals. Back now with her follow-up, the Icelandic songstress has seen a new light, offering up a contrasting vision of the future. The aptly named “Utopia” invites harps, flutes and bright choruses to suggest her newly found dreamland.
Once again collaborating with Venezuelan producer Arca, after their previous co-effort in “Vulnicura,” this time around they’ve left the dark side for greener pastures. From the album opener on “Arisen My Senses,” it’s quite clear the direction that will inevitably follow. Here’s where we also hear the first influences from Arca. The complex arrangements of metallic sounds and bass bumps amidst the vulnerability of Björk’s vocals make this an ideal opening. Said the singer of this track (via Pitchfork), “The melody’s like a constellation in the sky. It’s almost like an optimist rebellion against the normal narrative melody.” What she’s saying is clear. The song shows a beautifully messy organization by both her and her collaborator. Like the album as a whole, the abstract mixes with the specific making the disorder feel purposeful, the seeming improvisation feel orchestrated. Knowing both Arca and Björk, it’s no surprise they pulled this off.
Soon after the opener, “The Gate” opens a portal to a fairy-tale nirvana, one of love and, sure there’s some new-age stuff in here as well, but it nevertheless works. From woodwinds, to harps and flutes, even some Arctic birds recorded from her newly purchased Icelandic cabin, feature prominently. Take the title-track for instance which kicks off with just that as Björk gleefully sings “Bird species never seen or heard before/The first flute carved from the first fauna.” Her affinity of olden instrumentation features on “Blissing Me” as well, where during a subtle electronic ballad she shyly tells the story of “Two music nerds obsessing.” The boy shares an MP3, asks the girl to wait for him while the music settles in. “Now, how many lightyears this interim/While I fall in love with his songs?” Björk has described this album as one about “transcendental love,” even jokingly donning it her “Tinder album.” Where “Vulnicura” was on themes of love lost, “Utopia” covers love found. “Courtship” discusses the complicated way those in the dating pool communicate, whereas “Features Creatures” delves into that moment one comes across another who reminds them of an ex-lover.
The world Björk describes here is one of mythical love, pristine nature and meditative thoughts. She’s at the same time describing her current mindset and tempting to those listening to come aboard. The final track, “Future Forever” pleas just that: “Describe a future and be in it,” she sings, “Your past is on loop, turn it off.” As “Utopia” continues her gaze forward towards a future of endless possibilities, the onus is on the listener to make it happen.
“Utopia” is available Nov. 24 on Apple Music.