Björk’s last record, Vulnicura, is not an easy listen, at least initially. Yes, eventually it’s (surprisingly) accessible and everything clicks into place, but whether through its themes, or the decision to double down on the jagged electronica, it surely doesn’t make it easy for you. In contrast, Utopia – built, somewhat, as a companion piece, or a continuation – feels… easier. Sure, it’s still not that easy: it’s her longest studio album to date (at over 70 minutes) and, thanks to producer Arca, there’s still those undertones of jagged electronica all over it. Perhaps it’s the decision to make this Björk’s “flute record”, giving it a dreamy (albeit still slightly sinister) vibe throughout. Thematically Utopia is empowering: addressing what happens after a break-up – the healing, the refocusing of energy, the realizations at the end, perhaps more importantly, that you are the one in control – Björk toes the line between vulnerability and strength masterfully, although perhaps it’s something long suited to her abilities. Admittedly you come in not doubting what Björk can do, with the only barrier being whether you’ll get it. On Utopia, you can and you will. [NB] | 4/5
As with the last couple of years, the second week of our seven weeks of How to Collect… will look at the essential acts of the place we’re focusing on. This year we’re doing the Nordic countries, but while assembling these essentials I worried that the focus is too much on Sweden. A bit disproportional, but then, Swedish acts have been more prominent than its neighbors. You’ll have to forgive that so-called transgression, but you’ll find a good spread of acts this week, and in the coming weeks, when we focus on one country at a time. Starting with, well, Sweden, next week.
I would have uploaded this review last week, but then again, Björk’s recent work has been pretty intense that I thought I needed a bit more time to let things boil over my head. However, I’m surprised – pleasantly – at how accessible Vulnicura is. A bit of a throwback to her 1997 album Homogenic, Vulnicura centers on string arrangements mixed in with the electronic beats that’s been the trademark of her recent music. There’s nothing unusual with that, but at the same time it traps you in Björk’s lyrics, intensely recounting a break-up (in this case, her break-up with artist Matthew Barney). Her lyrics – raw, inquiring, jagged, and yet serene – are the most challenging part of the album, because you just feel like you shouldn’t be hearing those things. And yet it doesn’t go down very hard. You know it should, but the contrasts make for a record that floats, for lack of a better term. Yep. It’s been a week and I still can’t quite articulate Vulnicura properly. But I’ll say this: I’m no fan of break-up records, but I can stick with this one. [NB] | 4/5
“It’s Oh So Quiet” by Betty Hutton | I was supposed to post Björk’s take on the song until I learned it was a cover of this 1951 song, which in turn is a cover of this 1948 German song by Harry Winter. (Granted, the 1951 version debuted the familiar manic arrangement.) This song applies, more than ever, to what will happen a minute from now. The fight is far from over, folks.