Björk has done it again. In her captivating ninth studio album, "Utopia," the Icelandic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and all-around powerhouse of a woman explores themes of nature, love, loss, and recovery.
This album was carefully crafted with Björk’s coproducer, Alejandro Ghersi, a Venezuelan electronic record producer (aka Arca) to create something extraordinarily sophisticated, delicate, and biting.
With soft acoustic instrumentation juxtaposed with Arca’s harsh and glitchy electronic sounds, this album requires the listener’s absolute attention. "Utopia" is different from Björk’s previous albums because of its harmonic swirlies, strong thematic presence, and its sonic juxtaposition. It is beautiful and breathtaking from the start to finish.
In the first track, "Arisen My Senses," Björk previews the dark intimacy of the album. She seems to be in every space of the room and engulfs your headphones. The vocals and instrumentation are layered and include beautiful harp sounds.
"Blissing Me" is spilling over with harp and stripped of electronic sounds. She sings, “Did I just fall in love?” over and over again. In "The Gate" there is an electronic fullness, in a way that is complementary and calculated, but it feels empty and quite devastating. She croons, “I care for you” repeatedly. She is screaming at an ex-lover, seemingly into the void.
In the title track, "Utopia," there is a myriad of serene, pastoral soundscapes like flute song and bird noises. When she sings the melodies, her voice sounds as though she is floating and dancing in the air. It sounds easy, pastoral, and majestic. This song in particular does a great job delivering a message of environmental concern and appreciation to the listener. The track has an overall message of an endangered biosphere. This is most evident with her lyrics, “purify toxicity”, that she sings over a chorus of blissful organic and nature sounds.
"Features Creatures" is comprised of ethereal, harmonic swirling sounds and a variety of flute instruments. The lyrics describe a situation in which you randomly bump into someone who looks similar to an ex-lover and then deal with the feeling of instantly falling in love with someone you don’t even know.
The main dynamic of the next song, "Courtship," features tranquil melodic passages played on flutes and other acoustic instruments juxtaposed against harsh, glitchy electronic beats. Björk referred to this new album as her “Tinder album,” and this song makes it quite apparent. It's surprisingly fitting for a biting commentary on love and dating in the modern age.
The next track, a song entitled "Loss," is by far my personal favorite from the album. It is an exploration on personal romantic loss, with lyrics such as, “Loss of love, we all have suffered/ How we make up for it defines who we, who we are/ It defines us, how we overcome it/ Recover, repair from loss”.Musically, the track features lots of serene harp and flutes in a lush arrangement against explosive beats by Rabit and Arca.
Björk’s "Utopia" is a sweeping showcase of her abilities to craft a near-perfect album. It is dizzying, personal, and created for introverted or sensitive people. Björk explodes in ways utterly unexpected and incredulous considering this is her ninth album. Björk has not burned out, and we can expect a lot of her in years to come.