With the world’s current state of affairs in complete and utter disarray, Björk’s ninth solo album attempts to instil within us feelings of both positivity and hope. In contrast to 2015's string-heavy and emotionally heart wrenching release, Vulnicura, Utopia’s world is governed by euphonious birdsong and enchanting flutes. These free-flowing soundscapes generate a much more light-hearted and cheerful atmosphere from the off, with the fluttering woodwind transporting you to tranquil and almost otherworldly lands.
Whilst Björk has always pushed the boundaries of song writing and musical production, she and Venezuelan producer Arca have gone a step further with this release. Through the use of distorted vocal samples, Björk’s powerful yet irregular singing and the ever-shifting soundscapes ensure that traditional structure is absent throughout the album. Whilst this is a refreshing approach, it is equally as frustrating in many ways. Listening is even challenging at some points as the various textures erratically scamper over each other, leaving you with scarcely anything to sink your teeth into. This conflict is no more apparent than on Features Creatures. The uniqueness of Björk’s voice is brought to the forefront on this track, prolonging certain words in an arbitrary manner and rolling her r’s to accentuate the eccentricity of her vocals. Whilst this is a common component of Björk’s musicality, pairing this with the eerie sounds of the woodwind orchestra make for an arduous listen. The end result is a bland and seemingly improvised sixth track.
Yet, whilst Utopia is divergent from Vulnicura in a myriad of ways, it has an undoubtedly powerful connection to its predecessor. With the previous album being fuelled by Björk’s split with ex-partner Matthew Barney, Utopia could in many ways be seen as a departure point for the Icelander, signalling the attainment of some form of closure. Songs such as Sue Me and Tabula Rasa are acutely personal and at times uncomfortably so. Calls of "sue me all you want…I won’t denounce our origin" ring out over the crashing of powerful and gritty electronics as Björk addresses her custody battle with Barney over their daughter in Sue Me. Tabula Rasa even makes you feel as if you are eavesdropping on an intensely intimate conversation; an even stranger experience. "I hoped to give you the least amount of luggage…Got the right to make your own fresh mistakes" explains Björk to her daughter, whilst also imploring that the "fuckups of the fathers" must not be repeated.
Thankfully, the album comes to a close on much happier notes, both musically and thematically. "This forest is in me, I immerse me, this is my home" sings Björk on Claimstaker, whilst we are begged to "hold fort for love forever" on the final cut Future Forever. These lyrics are sung as if legitimised through experience, and as if Björk is finally at peace with herself and the world around her. The beautiful, shimmering synths that illuminate the concluding track perfectly complement the positivity of its lyrics. Future Forever is a calming and soothing end to a somewhat erratic and misshapen album, signifying that after a long and hard journey, Björk has finally arrived at her utopia, and is calling on everyone else to join her.
Words: Tom Bradley