Album Review: Björk’s “Utopia” Might Be the One Art Pop Album for the Picky Classical Friend in your Life

by Stephanie L. Carlin

What can I say about Björk except that she’s, well, Björk.

She’s one of those artists whose name comes up often in conversations with friends, yet I’ve never listened to her. I wasn’t sure what her style was and every time I looked her up, she didn’t have any hugely famous songs or albums I could look into. She was just Björk, an Icelandic singer-songwriter with a large fanbase and cool eyebrows.  Still, those who’ve read my articles or talked to me know me. I can’t judge anything without listening, analyzing, and from there, developing an informed opinion on the artist. Then, Utopia came out and many reviews have said that it’s her best work so I figured, why not? I’m going to talk about Björk.

Overall, it’s a classical album.

I mean, not really. It’s an art pop album, but the songs structurally are most definitely of classical structure.

One of the singles that came out of this album was “The Gate,” which has been described as a love song. Musically, it is sending roses to Charles Ives’s door. While the overly compressed vocals and sequenced analogs may not be convincing, the harmony, in particular, is something right out of the modern classical music playbook. In the intro of the song, Björk uses three voices and two flutes against outdoor sounds. This harmony makes it difficult to find the tonic. When the lyrics do come in, the melody and harmony are never in the tonic, and while there isn’t an initial groove, there is a certain intensity that comes in when the situation calls for it. As the song keeps going, the synths and style get more intense and the listener can’t help but to be entranced. The intensity may change throughout these songs, though the themes stay the same, in a similar way a theme would be heard throughout a symphony. That was always a fun thing to listen for in the album.

There are plenty of moments in this album where this structure comes in. Even in “Blissing Me,” where everything seems like the song is going to be in a standard set of harmony, it gets bizarre really quickly. The rhythm constantly changes and there are vocal moments that surprise me. I could never predict what was coming next on this album, which is not a bad thing, but there are certain things that, as a listener, I am sensitive to. I’m not a fan of the increasingly high frequencies or thin, tin-like percussion heard frequently on songs such as “Arisen My Senses” and “Body Memory.”

Honestly, this album might be hard to get into for some. Art pop is weird. Lady Gaga tried and didn’t make it work, but Björk has really mastered her craft on this album. The songs can be exceptionally long and some may not enjoy that there are instrumentals in the middle of it, but,it is a great holiday gift for the classical friend in your life, and if you want some nap music or something relaxing and different, then I recommend it. In a climate where predicability has become a staple, Björk and others like her have pushed the boundaries to make a fresh, extraordinary sound.

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