This week we take a test drive and listen to Bjork’s fourth solo release, “Vespertine”. The mostly experimental and very personal album, did not have a true hit on it, but that didn’t stop it from charting all over the world, including hitting number 1 in France, Spain, Denmark, and of course her homeland of Iceland. It was nearly universally praised by critics at the time of its release as well. One critic, Billboard’s Michael Paoletta even wrote of being brought to tears while listening to this album for his review.
“Vespertine” is indeed powerful. It is a rich landscape of an album. Bjork’s often biting and breathy lyrics are presented beautifully above, and interwoven into, a mix of avant-garde beats and textures that border on her own self-created brand of gentle-pop drinkability, but it still stays out there- on the edge, keeping the listener equally on the proverbial edge. Quite a lovely place to be . . . comforted, yet scared. A place Bjork has kept her fans for decades.
This album pushed some of the Bjorkians, or Bjorkites, or Bjorkophiles, or Bjorkers if you will- into unknown territory. But with welcome results. The production team on this record was vast and eclectic and showed off some of the world’s hottest musical minds, even if you didn’t know them at the time. Including, the then San Franciscan, now Baltimorean experimental couple, Matmos. Bjork tapped into their finest micro-beat making, to create textural layers in these songs, using the most simple of techniques, like samples of shuffling cards or cracking ice, but also utilizing the highest-tech in studio effects. After their work in the studio, Bjork took Matmos on her subsequent world tour and helped launch their career. [The following music video is NSFW.]
“Vespertine” reads like a book. In fact, when it was released, it had a companion coffee table book of photographs of the singer throughout her career and from all over the world. The album and the book, are a book of love. Bjork was in a fresh relationship with Matthew Barney, the experimental artist and film maker. She loves him. She love him. She loves him. An almost awkward and unhealthy dose of that young limerence shows up on the album, both overt, and obscured.
From the opening track, “Hidden Place”, Bjork shows us the Bjork we have come to know and love. But by the closing song, “Unison”, we have seen all sides of the singer. Joy and fear. Love and Hate. All through “Vespertine”, you find yourself lost, but enjoying it. A unique listening experience that acts as a kind of gateway drug into Bjork’s following albums and into the work of her producers, namely Matmos.
16 years later, I give this album 4 out of 5 stars. It is an important and enjoyable collection of songs and it should be in most audiophile’s collections.