Utopia is Bjork’s ninth album, still with One Little Indian, still pushing boundaries artistically and sonically. The album’s artwork reflects the album’s themes and sound, apparently, but you have to be a better art critic than me to figure that out. Musically, Bjork worked with Venezuelan DJ Arca and a thirteen-piece flute orchestra. Lyrically, she is in an optimistic mood, pushing for some kind of Utopia as a necessity to escape the world we currently live in.
8/10 Robin Staff review, 28 November 2017
It’s a seventy-five minute record with a buncha flutes on it -- they’re leaving it to me. Having made her best record in ‘Vulnicura’, a stressful, catharsis-denying record of never resolved and never romanticized heartbreak, Björk returns with ‘Utopia’, continuing to writhe in the undefined sonic contours of Arca. With a couple of gimmicks in its PR -- like the now infamous “Tinder album” soundbyte -- this record largely follows the musical territory of the record before it. The difference is its focus: it sounds like Björk is exploring the terrain this time, rather than finding herself trapped in it.
Once again, Björk takes the long route around potential songs into a sombre, ponderous kind of magic. This time, though, she sounds comfortably lost: every song on this expanding myth of a record feels like a chance for her to wander, switching the one-note emotional trauma of ‘Vulnicura’ for something that sounds more akin to unbridled curiosity: as these songs traverse the pastoral breathiness of flutes and fixed-gaze electronic stabs, she sounds like someone wading through natural obstacles in search of more to look upon. With production largely coming from Arca and a supplementary moment or two from Rabit, her songwriting is given a heavier, throbbier sound, with tracks like “Body Memory” seeing her realise some of her most overdriven music ever. This record is both folksy and thrashing, and that’s a marvel.
It’s a mess, but Björk seems okay with it: she’s not trying to create a career-defining behemoth with this record as much as she is seeing in which directions she can push her listener, dabbling with the ill-named power ambient before making choral vocal centerpieces, or playing with the instruments of her oldest, most formally pop records in ways we might have never thought possible. On this massively confusing record, it's fair to say she's smashing it; it'll take much more than a cursory listen to unravel the things she's discovering for herself.
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