Living with this Bjork album for a few weeks now has not made it any simpler or easier to describe. Though I am as captured by it now as possible.
This is not a quasi-pop album in the mould of Vespertine, nor the full out there exploration of Biophilia, or even Medulla. Nor is it as straightforward a beautiful record of intimacy as Vulnicura or a thumping electronic exploration such as Homogenic.
It is possibly best described as a studio-fixed and an intensely rewarding close experience – as in headphones, closed eyes, immersion – art pop record. For better and for worse.
This means in short that it is free of demands, such as easily explained melodies and tight structures, so that songs can roam free like wild Scottish sheep scattered across hillsides up north. Ovine/songs stopping here to graze at stubbled greenery in Tabula Rasa until storm clouds build; lying down while vehicles rumble by in The Gate; feeling the wind scud down on it in Features Creatures.
Yet it nonetheless retains graspable shapes and attractive – actually at times utterly beautiful - elements, winding stories that lead you on journeys valued for themselves rather than their destination, like those narrow Scottish roads up north where the driving (and the sheep spotting) are the point.
See that in the flecks of sunshine and rhythm in Courtship, the little explosions of delight over quite old-fashioned keyboards in Arisen My Senses, or the elegant woodwind and delicate air of Paradisa, all songs where the experience is strong even if you can’t see where Bjork is going all the time.
In musical tone Utopia is closest to Vulnicura, that post-breakup record of frank emotions and even franker language which was nonetheless not really melancholic and not wholly angry but rather bruised and inquisitive, uncertain and responsive.
However, in emotional tone this is by way of a riposte or maybe a recovery from the hurt and doubt and scarring of its predecessor with Bjork taking in the world with wonder and pleasure again.
That it’s a world where women and children are the source of both pleasure and serenity, and men are mostly in retrospect (previous bad behaviour) or in scarcely noted/noticed absence is interesting – and with cause you would have to say – but not defining.
Instead what defines Utopia is the way Bjork and her returning chief collaborator, Arca (Alejandra Ghersi) create this aural and textural world.
The mix of contrived sounds and scattered organic ones, the way electronics blend into the soil one minute and then dominate the landscape the next, the anchorless rhythms and freeform overlays, all play on your ears, obviously, but play as effectively on your inner eye.
Bjork really is on to something here. What it is may not be explainable, but it is understandable. Feel-able.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Bjork – Utopia here
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Bjork – Utopia here