Bjork - Utopia

by Kevin Orton Rating:6 Release Date:2017-11-24
Bjork - Utopia
Bjork - Utopia

Bjork’s latest might just be the sound of Utopia. It's full of noble sentiments and beautiful ideas that are just beyond reach of mortal hands. As with her last, the wounded and claustrophobic, Vulnicura, the aims here are artistic, not commercial.   

The opener, is an Art gallery appetizer for the lush woodwinds and bird tweets of ‘Saint’. Soon, a schizophrenic wave of multi-tracked vocal loops take over. If the intent is to captivate the listener, the results are overwhelming when coupled with the song’s anemic melody. This is pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album. Busy production attached to obscure, meandering melodies.  ‘Paradisa’ keeps up the overly sweet orchestrations with plenty of flute. An instrument which more than any other, characterizes this album. Whale songs emerge in the mix but ‘Paradisa’ only serves an interlude for ‘Claimstaker’. Here, Bjork’s wayward vocals are aided by cutesy “boop bah boop” loops. Once again, there’s a lot going on sonically, but it’s another drawn out, weak melody that is completely buried by the production. Despite the sonic layers, in terms of an actual song, there’s little for the listener to hold on to.

‘Tabula Rasa’ could mostly serve as a soundtrack to an avant garde nature documentary. Things veer dangerously close to cheesy, New Age/World Music territory here. Again, the melodies are stretched out like taffy and then besieged by willfully eccentric atmospherics. The results at this point are more indulgent than alluring. It’s clear a lot of thought went to crafting this sound, but nothing feels spontaneous. On ‘Sue Me’ the sound effects simply begin to grate, at odds with Bjork’s emoting.

‘Loss’ gives the listener a more concise melody to latch on to. However, the production is again laid on with a trowel. Washes of acerbic static blow which break up any flow and the results are more annoying than unsettling. ‘Courtship’ follows and sounds like much of what preceded it.

‘Feature Creatures’ pairs things back a bit, focusing on a nearly acapella vocal. Again, the melody is difficult to follow.

Utopia’s centerpiece is the nearly ten-minute, ‘Body Memory’. Here we’re graced with more diffuse sounds of nature. Birds. Bleating sheep. Moo-ing cows. Whales. Underscored by subtle orchestration, which for the most part remains restrained. It’s a long song with words like ‘Kafkaeque’ and ‘patriarchy’ but ultimately it goes nowhere. A long, musical Cul de Sac. Meanwhile, ‘Utopia’, the title track, brings on more flutes, electronics and animal noises. At this point things just become redundant.

One highlight however, is ‘Blissing Me’ where Bjork reigns in her floating melodies, abetted by some Joanna Newsom-like harp. The closer, ‘Arisen My Senses’ is another standout. By far, Utopia' s most rousing and inspired track. But it’s all a little too late. If only there were more of ‘Arisen’. While Bjork dresses up each song imaginatively, it doesn’t disguise the fact that melodically, this is not her most arresting work.

Utopia is undoubtedly ambitious and carefully constructed. Overall however, it makes for a sprawling and unwieldy listen. While brighter than her last, the listener isn’t always let in. One doesn’t quite feel invited to the party. More often, you’re left eavesdropping at the door while Bjork dances alone in fanciful circles, lost in the reveries of her own world. Unquestionably, there is plenty of artistic merit on offer, but as a whole, Utopia remains a somewhat inaccessible effort.

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