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Published on November 29th, 2017 | by voxx

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Björk – Utopia

The Icelandic visionary swaps heartache for euphoria…

One reason that Björk became an irresistible pop star in the ’90s was her talent for joy. Songs conveying happiness can be simplistic but Björk’s were multidimensional: romantic, erotic, visceral, spiritual. Not that she skirted tougher realities but it was shocking to hear her, on 2015’s Vulnicura, mapping the debris of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney with such punishing honesty. She had been many things but never bleak, never lost.

As the title of Utopia signals, things are looking up. Björk has framed it as “paradise” to Vulnicura’s “hell”. She’s brought back that album’s co-producer Arca, her most simpatico collaborator since the late Mark Bell, but this time they’re celebrating new love and (like 2011’s Biophilia) the dance between nature and technology. The airy, organic sounds of woodwind, strings, harp and choirs are knitted with crunchy digital beats, most exquisitely on 10-minute centrepiece ‘Body Memory’ and the title track’s rainforest chamber-pop. Utopia is like walking through a vast tropical greenhouse, full of sunlight, oxygen and the twittering of birds.

Like all of Björk’s albums this past decade, it has a slippery relationship with melody and structure. The more shapeless tracks resemble, to quote ‘Body Memory’, “f**king mist”. But they are eclipsed by moments of piercing emotional clarity such as the playful account of fledgling romance on ‘Features Creatures’ (just the way she sings ‘lit-er-all-y’ is a treat) or ‘Tabula Rasa’, with its pledge to her daughter: “You will have to deal with s**t soon enough/I hope to give you the least amount of luggage.”

The elevating optimism of Utopia is encapsulated in its final glowing benediction, Future Forever: “Hold fast for love, forever.” Paradise regained.

- By Jake White


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