By Trent Warner
One Little Indian
Over the span of her career, Björk has given energy and insight to almost every aspect of humanity. She’s experimented with (and created) new technologies and instruments, reflected on life from biological and spiritual perspectives, and most recently on Vulnicura (2015), she created a deeply personal reflection of her own heartbreak and loss. Two years later, she returns with perhaps her most accessible concept to date; Utopia is an exploration of music, womanhood, and most importantly love. Ostensibly, it’s an album of self-care in an exasperatingly ominous global landscape.
Working again with co-producer Arca, Björk has entered her “strongest musical relationship.” Throughout the album they push each other’s boundaries—Arca’s harsh electronic sounds are complemented by the softness of Björk’s harps, strings, and flutes. The album is an intense clash of musical intellect drawn from universal human feeling. That’s what is part of Björk’s brilliance and mystique; she doesn’t only want to tell you how she feels, she wants to explore the gamut of what it means to feel that. With each note, hum, breath, she tries to let you in. After her greatest heartbreak, she planted and nurtured seeds of resilience.
Opener “Arisen My Senses” transports you to the first moment you felt love in a kiss. Björk is resetting all aspects of herself for the better of her world. The song is the simultaneous eruption of volcanoes and the shifting of tectonic plates; the consideration of what’s at risk with a new lover, and the thrill of putting it all on the line. Arca’s drum sample fireworks and the overlaying vocal echoes from Björk form hundreds of sparks that rise and fizzle throughout the five-minute track. The harp that follows is the unmistakable sound of the hope required to let one’s self love again after heartbreak; the sound of letting go of personal qualms.
The title track is an exploration of her world – the sound of discovery at once simple and complex. There are new creatures offering unheard onomatopoeia, footsteps trekking through unfamiliar flora, and Björk’ guiding voice, easing you in: “You assigned me to protect our lantern/ to be intentional about the light.” Her Utopia exists in our own world, but it’s not possible unless we “purify, purify, purify…” a process that begins internally before inheriting the earth.
Once she’s put in the work, the album’s opus “Body Memory” unfolds. Nearly ten minutes in length, it is the antithesis to Vulnicura’s “Black Lake,” where Björk unveiled the extent of her heartbreak and betrayal, bleakly shedding everything until there was no Björk left. Now, she fights against her anxiety and internal misgivings, learning to trust herself. From there, she grants us a slew of love songs, falling first in love with herself before moving on to fall in love with others, with nature, with the world, with love.
While striving for peace, Björk rejects and condemns violent men from her past; her longtime partner, Lars Von Trier (whom she recently lamented with an essay discussing the abuse she suffered at his hands while filming Dancer in the Dark), and the patriarchy itself. On “Tabula
Rasa” she sings “Clean plate: Not repeating the fuckups of the fathers,” of the many ways these men have failed her, and of a need for something new—she entices the listener: “you are strong / you are strong / you’re so strong.” For Björk, strength comes from vulnerability, and softness comes from protecting one’s vision and values.
If you can get into what Björk is offering, then there’s room for you in Utopia. Her surreal version of a self-help album works only because it has to—if one shuts off, the music stops.
Björk, One Little Indian, Utopia