Album Reviews by Mark Bayross and EDF
Review by Mark Bayross
The release of Björk’s fourth album proper sees the Icelandic songstress escape even further into her own fantastical world of enchanted forests and winter fairies. Of course, this is Björk, an artist who has previously had no qualms about releasing records with vaudeville big band numbers and roaring industrial metal side-by-side; a woman as famous for punching out journalists as she is for being cripplingly shy. When Björk creates, she does nothing by halves.
“Vespertine” means “relating to the evening”, and, with the help of collaborators such as Guy Sigsworth, Marius DeVries, Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, Vince Mendoza and Matmos (about whom I think we shall hear a lot more in the near future) among others, Björk has crafted an album of stunning atmosphere and often mesmerising brilliance.
Björk has said that this album is an attempt to rejoice in solitude, to create a cocoon in which she (and the listener) can retreat, wrapped safely in the warmth of one’s own thoughts. She has certainly succeeded in creating an album for home listening, but the warmth only comes across when the washes of strings erupt.
The rest of the time, there is a sense of spine-tingling coldness (the music box coda of “Frosti”, the muffled static of “Cocoon”), a feeling augmented by the sense of “found sound” across the whole album – electronic clicks and whurrs abound. This is by no means accidental – much of the sounds found here were sampled into Björk’s laptop during her many travels.
But the orchestral crescendos (“Aurora”, “Harm Of Will”) and stunning choral backdrops (“Heirloom”, “It’s Not Up To You”) produce breath-taking peaks right across this album’s 55 minutes. When twinkling harps playfully glide across the mix, the effect could melt the coldest of hearts.
Lyrically, the songs range from an EE Cummings poem (“Sun In My Mouth”) to the difficulties posed by everyday life (“It’s Not Up To You”), but the album is probably best summed up by its preceding single (and first track), the haunting “Hidden Place”.
“Vespertine” is not an album that can really be dipped into – it’s a collective work that flows from its minimal beginnings to its celestial end. While she denies it is “avant garde”, it is by no means easily accessible, but will undoubtedly grow with each listen. Certainly, there are some astonishing moments contained herein.
Björk has already started performing much of “Vespertine” in churches and opera houses across the globe, backed by an Eskimo choir. I’d expect nothing less.
Review by EDF
The follow-up to her last proper studio album, Homogenic, or the soundtrack for ‘Dancer in the Dark’ – SelmaSongs, whichever way you want to see it, Vespertine maps out Bjork’s musical progression to distance herself from what others around her are doing. While this might seem like a cynical thing to say, the truth of the matter is that Bjork has made music that pleases her and while this might not be to everybody’s liking, those that appreciate it are always rewarded. So how does this album compare to the others?
Starting off with the single, “Hidden Place”, you would be mistaken to think that there was no structure to the song but on repeated listening, the production between the choir, sweeping orchestra and electronic beats expresses how mysterious and wondrous each person’s hidden place of the mind is. It might be that Bjork is exorcising her acting experience of ‘Dancer in the Dark’ and instead wish to express herself through her music.
”Cocoon” is a quite beat-lite driven tale of boy meets girl as they exchange a passionate moment, sounding slightly reminiscent of “All Is Full Of Love”. “It’s Not Up To You” a cautious reminder that no matter what you do with your day, certain events will be out of your control leading to unwanted pressure. With the orchestra heavily featured and the choir coming in halfway through the track, there is a sense that maybe there are forces from above controlling your events.
”Frosti”, an instrumental track, predominately featuring a music box leads itself into “Aurora”. With a scraping sound like someone digging himself or herself out from an ice prison, the harp slowly replaces the music box, as the sparkle of day is overwhelming. With the sight of this wondrous beauty, Bjork’s vocals flies around with the greatest of ease and is complimented with the backing of the choir.
There is a rumour going around that the next few singles from the album might be the last three tracks on the album. “Heirloom” is about a recurring dream Bjork has featuring her mother and son. “Harm of Will” is another full orchestral affair, which, subject wise, is open to your own interpretation. “Unison” is Bjork creating her own world and sharing that world with whomever she chooses. I would be very surprised if some of these tracks were not remixed for greater chart success whenever they get released as singles.
While writing the album, Bjork realised that she had “always been this punk who wants everything very real and very stark. This album is partly about creating a cocoon, almost like a paradise that you can escape to.” Listening to this album for the first time, you realise that there is no other major female star at the moment that would make a very diverse, non-mainstream album like this. This album will certainly take you to places you haven’t been before. What the general record buying public will think about this, who knows, but hopefully this will be a big success for Bjork.