Randomness, in life, is a joke that lets you reflect on for so long that you risk to indulge bewilderment. Now in her ninth studio album (by One Little Indian Records), the Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk donates to the world “Utopia“, a disk numerologically aligned with the meaning of the ordinal discographic episode reached: the nine represents the fulfillment of a cycle that leads to the transposition on a new plane. In other words, being the last digit before ten, it contains within itself the dual concept of beginning and end, death and rebirth. Symbolically, “Vulncura“, the previous album, had been the transition of the singer’s family life. A heartbreaking record that narrated, chapter after chapter, the artist’s marriage with the brilliant Matthew Barney dissolution. A narrative hell full of bows and overdubs, poisoned beats and apocalyptic scenarios. In the sign of an opposite polarity, as it has often been in her discography (remember the passage of torch between the explosive “Homogenic” and the celestial “Vespertine“), Björk has created a paradisiacal, solemn chapter, spirit-washing, as she defined it. A record that already clarifies its potential by the title itself: utopian is the imagined, unexplored land, full of flowers and birds never seen before. A locus amoenus that is both the starting point of personal rehabilitation hope after the end of the thirteen-year romance and the spiritual oasis imagined to conceive a different world, a salvific reality that can be a valid counterbalance to the dismal political scenario of these times. Once again, nothing completely new: in the track “Mouth’s cradle” of 2004, belonging to the experimental “Medulla“,s he sang “I need a shelter to build an altar away from all Osama and Bush“. Today the villain is Trump, and with him all the villains who play the conflict in a game of ego mirrors that threatens an entire humanity.
Obviously, in order support such a full-bodied concept, the artist could not but surround herself once again with the fertile mind of the Venezuelan producer Arca, , an increasingly interesting electronic scenario’s magician. In addition to being a significant friendship, theirs is also a collaboration that the artist has compared to the one existing between Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius.
Published on November 24th, three days after her 52nd birthday, the album is a pagan blessing spread on avant-garde and folktronica genres, ambient and choral music. The longest in her career, one of the most transcendental and ethereal onesl. To achieve this result, consistent with the matriarchal, feminist and purifier spirit of the record, the singer has enlisted a female section of 12 Icelandic flutes. And sampling – so many samples! – of various birds species registered between Venezuela and Iceland.
As always, the narrative path rattles off between nature and technology, in a delicate spiritual and prosaic balance. The cover of the album is a striking example: the artist was inspired by the Goddess Persephone with a mother-of-pearl look created by her creative friend James Merry. In classical mythology, Persephone, had dared to eat six seeds of pomegranate in hell, a deplorable action that had earned her the condemnation of living there forever. However, thanks to the intervention of the mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture who in revolt to the Gods’ decision had unleashed an endless winter, had obtained the compromise of making the daughter live in the afterlife for the number of months equivalent to the number of seeds eaten . In agreement with Zeus, therefore, the goddess could return six months to Earth and live with her mother, who joyous because of her periodic return, celebrated spring and summer. Likewise, the Icelandic genius, who has stayed in Hades for her love affair for two years, has returned to the Earth surface full of awareness and hope.
Feelings exploding with the pioneering “Arisen my senses“, an erotic and carnal liquor mix that goes through explicit lyrics in the style of “Vespertine” (<< Who, who would have known? precisely / Across an ocean >> wrote in “Cocoon“). Describes, enlivened in the soul, a kiss that encompasses all the love (theme that will return in “Blissing me“). The palms and hands finally return to feel love pulsing within, and maniacally mention mixtapes, music and the recognition among people with the same pounding love for music.
“Two music nerds”obsessing”, she sings precisely in the delicate “ Blissing me”. Harp and dissonance in the Venezuelan Arpa house dominate an angelic, otherworldly melody. The bases of the utopia to which the singer refers are launched. A utopia that is not a burst of justice by yatagan, but a delicate search for ylang-ylang balance against machismo, in the exploration of a lush land filled with primordial splendor. Despite of the strong alchemy between the two sound engineers, it is Björk who always has the final touch and energetic and visionary re-opens sounds coming from Arca’s world that we were now resigned to dispose of as they were: irascible, too weird to be real, even cacophonous for the simple taste of being alternative.
“The Gate” is the first plot twisting we meet, not that much in terms of melodic amazement, but for the umbilical cord still inevitably attached to the previous album. It is no coincidence that the song was chosen as a single to anticipate the disc and symbolizes the portal from which the wounds inflicted by the divorce can finally sublimate into concern, affection for the love and tenderness bestowed, solicitude for the ability to give and receive that love torn apart by separation.
In the tracklist lies the central spirit of the concept: a global purification of human species in these dark and ruthless times. Whether there was a lantern, a torch of salvation from the leaden darkness in which we fell, the singer puts it back into art, into music. Even in her hands (<< You assigned me to protect our lantern / To be intentional about the light >>). Spirit and flesh chase each other, never separate. In “Body Memory” she reappropriates her physicality as it requires us all to reappropriate the ancestral instinct to struggle, to a better survival. The singer wonders if she is ready to accept her fate, and the answer comes by a verse that leaves no way to interpretations: “I’ve been wrestling my fate “, as Wolverine refuses to accept the conditions imposed by the ruthless partriarchal constraints and political abominations of the West. The rehabilitative path marries the intoxication, the manufacturing power of women. And lyrics, of course, are always by Guðmundsdóttir, and as such they cannot be easy-to-hold fabilas, and end up being the usual marvelous prolific texts of metaphors and redundancies from the anarchic and shameless pen of her. She wonders, for instance, how to capture the love that is in the air, how to collect the ocean using a needle like a miserable test tube (winking noble prize Wangari Maathai’s story about the bird saving the forest from the fire against elephant inertia).
“Features creatures” draws from “Medulla” the choral structure, with vocal harmonies that follow transparent lyrics , dedicated to the ideal man, a human being who goes to a specific record store with a well-defined accent and a recognizable beard. When she sees someone similar to him, Björk sings of being literally (her icelandinc accent was never that strong) five minutes from love. From love, yes, central in all this “Tinder album“. She stated herself that she has fallen in love with the feeling as a renewing force, as a transcendental impulse to which she aspires, like Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary. But at her age, and in the zenith of her career, in addition to being a soft awakening of senses, love welcomes above all the nuance of awareness. As a woman, as a mother. And here in “Courtnship” the ghosts of the past knock on the door to solicit her ” snakeskin, cold in the dark “. Describes the joy of falling in love again, the discovery of positive sensations, but the suffering of abandonment also appears indelible (“The love you gave and I have been given” / Weave into your own dream /I trust my cells to rearchive/ My love historic stream).
Precisely in that sense “Loss” is the final ritual of awareness, and boasts one of the most beautiful lyrics of the singer’s discography. The song, originated by the Texan Rabid’s creativity, let Björk ,universalize her feelings in a shower of electronic meteorites that magnificently convinces. Everyone suffers a loss, at least one, in life, but it is through overcoming this pain that our identity is defined. Only in this way will we be able to navigate towards a new aphrodisiac freedom.
In “Sue me” the anger re-emerges to denounce her ex-husband’s narcissism , accompanied by the request of breaking the course of pain inevitably poured on her daughter Isadora. The singer asks to be sued, angrily and ready to admit all her weaknesses. Once again an amazing metaphor appears: the biblical one from the “Book of Kings” in which two women both claim the motherhood of a child and King Solomon, after asking both who the real mother is and having received the obvious answer from both, proposes to divide the child into two parts. Clearly, at that point, the true mother refuses and energetically intervenes to defend her creature. In the same way, the artist does not want to go that far, in the on-again,off-again with her former partner, and declares that s he only wants to teach her daughter the most important lesson: to have dignity about the mistakes made. “Tabula rasa“, in fact, follows beautifully. She is a protective mother who hopes to leave as her inheritance the smallest possible amount of weight to her daughter, although she will inevitably have to face pain. She hopes heartily that she will not repeat the mistakes made by her parents, as well as her ancestors in general. In order for this to be possible, one must make a clean sweep of what has been, going back to the drawing board. The impulsive electronic beats are associated with the reappropriation of embodiment, of eroticism. The body nature and the one around us vibrate in sync and in “Claimstaker” is evident. “The forest is in me“, sings sacral, taking up Elasco Vitali’s philosophy in “Red Forest / Abandoned City“.
“Paradisa” is the instrumental access to the fertile and luxuriant terrain of imagination, followed by the enchanting “Saint“, an ode to music as a Goddess with recreational powers. Godmother and follower of her cult, the singer is on Earth to defend her.
To close the metaphysical splendor, the synth chords of “Future Forever” move because of their whispered, precious beauty. We are in front of “All is full of love” return trip, of which she even quotes the lyrics: “Trust your head around / Guide your stay elsewhere” twenty years after hugs the purifying verse “Twist your head around / It’s all around you“. It was since the dearly departed Mark Bell that we didn’t listen to such a beautiful ending.
Björk was able to convey to music what Jean Barbe said in literature, when he wrote that “Love is this: vanishing like a breath in the warmth of a skin softer than one’s own, to forget and be reborn.” That’s right, in the Summa Theologiae of her brilliant career, she reaches one of the highest peaks of wonder.
1Arisen My Senses