It’s hard to believe that it’s taken more than two decades for the iconoclast known as Björk to finally reach utopia. For many, the mere mention of the Björk conjures up a world of music that is the closest any artist has come to crafting a sonic utopia. The pixie-pop of Post, the trip-hop caverns of Homogenic, the crystalline ice caves that come with Vespertine—all look forward to a future of creative freedom and sound unbound, with Björk as the nucleus in these imagined landscapes. Perhaps waiting for Utopia (One Little Indian Records) through a small streak of duds was worth it, as the singer and composer’s latest album includes nods and winks to all of her phases and cycles. In 2015, Vulnicura was a return to form, but as her “divorce record,” it consequently suffers in depression and darkness. It’s brilliant, but best played only when the listener is in the deepest of despair. So Utopia being her “Tinder record,” completely flips the mood. From the first moment, the first four chords, Björk is offering the most joyous version of herself, is full of love.
Those first four chords of “Arisen My Senses,” though, are a bit deceptive. Is this going to be Utopia’s pop moment? Soon after, when producer Arca sinks his metallic claws into the melody, its apparent these two aren’t making a Janet Jackson record. In all respects, Utopia is Björk at her most abstract and wild. Throughout there are what sound like field recordings from other inhabitable planets, a choir of flutes that acts as the album’s siren call, and thanks to the mysterious Arca, beats that move at autonomous velocities. There are times, like on the majestically cute “Blissing Me,” that the two aren’t in harmony until a minute in, both trying to catch the other’s tail. Here, it’s amazing that Björk can sing of “music nerds” and “mp3s” and not sound pretentious in the slightest.
Arca dabbles in a palette that can be as minimal as Eno’s ambient works and as chaotic as Björk’s former collaborators (Tricky, Howie B, and Nelle Hooper) battling it out simultaneously on random machines. “Losss” is a great example of the latter, with Arca lifting a beat straight from Homogenic, and mutating it into Björk’s current sonic scope. That scope is wide-screened, confident in its amorphous forms, and truly one of the most enlightening experiences Björk has committed to tape.
Therein lies the pure magic of Björk, regardless of whether she’s making music with just the bones of our ancestors, the synthetic gears of cyborg overlords, just voice (see Medulla), or just beats.. If she tells you this is Utopia, you believe her. If she tells you she’s in love again, you believe her. Utopia is draining (it’s hard to sell a 72-minute album anymore), but it’s completely worth your undivided attention.