Björk

Utopia

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Björk has always been a powerful conduit for emotions: on Vulnicura, she captured the mental and physical anguish of heartbreak almost too well. On Utopia, she depicts coming back to life -- and love -- with equal intensity and creativity. Reunited with Vulnicura co-producer Arca, she expresses the album's liberation with lighter-than-air field recordings of birds from both of their homelands (Venezuela and Iceland, respectively) and lots of flute, an instrument she played as a child. These motifs echo the airy flow of her emotions and the structure-defying nature of these songs, and evoke the island paradise that she envisioned while making the album -- the perfect place to heal from a broken heart. Björk gives listeners a few glimpses of this bliss early on the album: the gorgeous opener "Arisen My Senses" is wild and lush, a reawakening full of caressing vocals, while "Blissing Me" expresses the quiet thrill of new love over fluttering harps, making the growing feelings between "two music nerds" sharing MP3s feel as quaintly heartwarming as handwritten notes. Both of these songs share DNA with "Venus as a Boy," "Hyperballad," and "All Is Full of Love" and serve as reminders of just how captivating Björk's joyous side is. However, Utopia's lightness isn't to be taken lightly, and she spends much of the album diving into the therapeutic work that makes happiness possible. "The Gate" sounds and feels like a sacred transformation ritual; over a deeply intoning flute, Vulnicura's wounds become openings for love to be offered and taken (later, "Features Creatures" borrows some of this mystery for its romantic déjà vu). "Body Memory" responds to the centerpiece of her previous album, "Black Lake," but where that song pulled her down deeper and deeper, here she trusts her instincts as she climbs over obstacles and hangups. Even as Utopia breaks free from pain, its songs are shaped by it, whether on the mournful "Losss" or "Courtship," where a cycle of online dating rejections leaves Björk wondering, "Will we stop seeing what unites us/But only what differs?" She focuses on how to make this unity a reality as Utopia draws to a close, most touchingly on "Tabula Rasa," a luminous wish that she burden her children with "the least amount of luggage" that she also extends to women to "break the fuckups of the fathers." Similarly, on "Future Forever," she urges listeners to turn off the loops of their pasts, but the bittersweet melody acknowledges just how big the gap between hopes and actuality can be. Utopia isn't quite as idyllic as its title implies, but its mix of idealism and realism makes it an even greater success as a manifesto for radically open love and as a document of thriving after loss.

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