Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor
Bjork drops the fairy schtick to play psychoanalyst.
Her first two efforts, 1993's Debut and 1995's Post, left Bjork looking like a tap-dancing pixie as she genre-hopped from dance to electronica to big band and a cappella balladry. In 1997, Homogenic saw her remake herself into a Scandinavian dominatrix on an orchestral high.
But Vespertine, her first full-length album in four years, finds Bjork leaving behind the artifice that previously shrouded her work in mystery in favor of experimenting with a more personal mood.
This is the sound of sunlight glinting off of a polar ice cap. Throughout, skeletal arrangements of icy beats and fuzzy-synth loops combine with fairy-tale swellings of strings, choirs and music boxes, creating an airy space for Bjork's angelic voice to inhabit.
For the first time, Bjork eschews her usual vocal gymnastics and fits of Icelandic howling in favor of a more straightforward delivery. This sonic restraint leaves an intimate space between Bjork and the listener, and she employs this closeness in order to quietly emphasize her poetic lyrics.
The album opens with "Hidden Place," a mantra that finds Bjork tucking all her passions and raw emotions into a secret place inside. In "It's Not Up To You" Bjork battles her neurotic desire to control her life: "I can decide what I give/But it's not up to me/What I get given."
But the most private revelation on Vespertine is the whispered "Cocoon." "He slides inside/Half awake half asleep/We faint back into sleephood/When I wake up the second time in his arms/Gorgeousness: he's still inside me!!!" This is the recorded equivalent of Bjork pressing her lips to your ear and confiding a secret to you.
Though all these tender moments of revelation are endearing, they are also more than a little disarming. In choosing to release her own classified information, Bjork is revealing experiences that aren't normally discussed between the closest of friends or family. And this from an artist who, in the past, seemed to wear so many masks. It's strange to find out that this is who she really is.
As the listener is treated to the aural essence of Bjork, they are also given privy to some of the best music of the Icelandic songstress' career. On "Pagan Poetry," Bjork opens her mouth to the most expressive melody her lips have ever curled themselves around, its labyrinthian harps twinkling like snowflakes falling on glass. Other gems, like the sci-fi folktale "Heirloom" and the drifting "Aurora," further prove that Bjork is on the top of her game here.
But at other times, all this emotional effort feels overwrought. "Hidden Place," with its repetitive groove and empty shape, is a weak choice for a lead single. And even after repeated listenings, "Harm of Will" feels aimless and ploddingly difficult to sit through.
On Vespertine, Bjork manages to separate herself from most emotive artists in the music industry. Instead of simply relying on her emotional turmoil to fuel the songwriting process, Bjork uses these songs to express her joy and exuberance for living.
With Vespertine, Bjork is telling the world how happy she is to have finally found clarity and peace within herself.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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