Hailing from Iceland, Björk started as an oddity in the realm of pop-stars in the 1990’s, and has only pushed her quirks further and further with each release since her debut album, appropriately titled Debut, in 1993. Since then her innovations in music and reinventions of herself have proven to be much more than can be expected of your average pop-star. While many people know her simply as a strange woman from a strange land, those who look past first impressions will find an artist whose music is just as unique as her personality.
Björk’s latest album, Utopia, was released less than three years after her previous, Vulnicura. This marks the smallest interval between her albums in just over a decade. This is no coincidence, as the subject matter of both Utopia and Vulnicura are deeply intertwined, dealing heavily with her separation from artist Matthew Barney, with whom she had a daughter and was in a relationship with for 13 years.
Naturally, a split from a thirteen-year relationship results in a myriad of emotions. When you combine these emotions with a music artist as prolific and respected as Björk, the results are naturally going to be compelling. Each album Björk puts out explores her branching out into a new realm of experimentation and Utopia is no exception. As a follow-up to Vulnicura, we see Björk expressing more joy, but also complicated feelings and emotions revolving around uncertainty and even fear.
The second song to be released, “Blissing Me,” shows Björk asking “Did I just fall in love with love,” in describing her relationship with someone who she had only swapped music with and thought she had fell in love with. Her struggle to process new forms of love is highly reflective of what it is like being single after a long relationship, and how it can be difficult to regain your bearings.
“Blissing Me” is one of several love songs on the record and the sonic shift from Vulnicura reflects this with more upbeat tones and airy instrumentation. Utopia shows Björk using wind instruments and samples more than she ever has before, and the combination of these sounds and the animalistic soundbites placed throughout clash with the futuristic production to create an other-worldly atmosphere. Many songs sound dream-like and others sound like they come from another planet entirely.
Clocking in at over 71 minutes and being filled with dense songs, often experimental in both structure and sound, Utopia is not an easy listen. First time Björk listeners may be put off by deeply-rooted stylistic choices that have developed and grown much throughout her career. Long gone is the time of pop artist Björk, and the era of boundary-pusher and sonic-explorer Björk continues and expands in this latest effort.
While being very new and unique within her discography, and within the world of music in general, this album also sees the return of older sounds and tropes Björk is known for. The song “Losss” goes as far as to sample the song “Joga” from her 1997 album, “Homogenic.”
Even with the influence and sampling of her old music, a very new light is shed on these sounds as they mold with innovative song structures and the frequently jarring production, which can be credited to both her and artist Arca, with whom she also collaborated with for Vulnicura. If given the proper chance, Utopia can offer sonic landscapes that unfold into new worlds for the listener to imagine and relish in. At its worst, the album can put off new listeners who are not prepared for the unique style offered here.
Regardless of the person, the album will certainly offer an experience any listener is not likely to forget. As Björk continues pushing herself, she continues to push listeners and the rest of the music industry alike. Of one thing you can be sure: she is nowhere near finished in her musical journey.
Album rating 8/10