“My healed chest wound transformed into a gate. Where I receive love from. Where I give love from.” It’s been just under 3 years since she mapped a relationship heartbreak with a unique yet tragic power on 2015’s Vulnicura – a chronological documentation that used strings, dark electronica and no-holding-back cutthroat lyrics from a bruised heart – but from those ashes comes an optimistic mindset and a visionary.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity about the past like before, Björk – who celebrated her 52nd birthday a few days before this release – is encouraging herself in the next chapter of her life and others to look into the keyhole to the future and imagine what a perfect utopia looks like and if it’s achievable.
Those who have followed the Icelander throughout her illustrious catalogue know that Björk has a fondness for nature and technology and is constantly striving to find ways to blend them both together whether as a music experiment or as a potential solution for mankind’s survival. The ambitious musician has done this in the past and this is what she does to brilliant effect on her 9th studio album Utopia to express her idea of Utopia in musical form. Electronic music and nature combining.
There are similarities between predecessor Vulnicura and Utopia in the electronic side of things and the use of empty audio space, overlapped vocals and minimalist patient ambient moments. In part this is down to teaming up with the same co-producer Venezuelan electronic prodigy Alejandro Gherci (Arca), although this time the two of them have greater chemistry as he was involved in the process throughout the recording time and the album’s production is solely a dual effort.
What makes it immediately stand apart from Vulnicura musically is the dominant process of the flute. The flute is a contrast to harsh angry strings on Vulnicura. On Utopia, it resembles nature in its imitation of birds and its airy presence paints a picture of a magical and dreamy woody Scandinavian forest containing a harmonic community of animals. Perhaps one vision of a utopia. In fact the flute is so significant to the album that it’s presented clearly on the cover sleeve.
This flute is accompanied by actual animal noises and natural sounds taken both through field recordings by Björk and borrowed from British artist David Toop’s 1980 album Hekura that act as a bridge between tracks making the album a cohesive experience.
The flute and atmospheric audio are paired with Arca’s unpredictable and shape-shifting electronic shuffles, choral echoes and Katie Buckley dreamy harp. The harp and electronica don’t make it Bjork’s most original album as it’s reminiscent of marvellous moments on Homogenic, Vespertine and Medúlla, but they way it’s paired with flute and interpretations of nature truly transform listeners to a heavenly paradise that the album’s title advertises – hear in particular ‘Future Forever’, ‘Paradisa’ and ‘Saint’.
Björk’s lyrics compliment the world-transforming music well. The title track ‘Utopia’, ‘Claimstaker’, ‘Body Memory ‘and ‘Future Forever’ speak about what it takes to build a new utopian world but also address the toxicity of the current one, continuing on Björk’s preoccupation with climate change (also a subject on Volta and Biophilia).
‘Tabula Rasa’ speaks about the blank canvas aspect of a utopia. What if things could start from scratch? “Clean plate. Tabula Rasa for my children. Let’s clean up. Break the chain of the fuck-ups of the fathers.”
Utopia is also an album where Björk tries to regain the simple idea of being in love – described as a type of Utopia in an interview – by analysing modern dating with ‘Courtship’, ‘Creature Features’, ‘Arisen My Senses’ and ‘Blissing Me’. She comments on music nerds who fall in love due to similar music tastes and the shallow nature of Tinder screen-swiping: “These statistics of my mind. Shuffling your features. Assembling a man. Googling love.”
By including the angry track ‘Sue Me’ about an going custody battle with ex Matthew Barney for their daughter Isadora on the album it demonstrates not only Björk’s continued fearlessness to express her darkest problems on record but also shows that she still has baggage to get through before she can reach and escape to her desired utopia. She’s not quite there yet but at the end of the album she shows her belief: “Imagine a future and be in it, Feel this incredible nuture, soak in.”