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Björk - Vespertine CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.99 | 133 ratings

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Symphonic Team
3 stars "Vespertine"'s album cover features Bjork hiding her face and the swan is superimposed to remind us of THAT dress. Her pixie image has never been more indelible as she shies away from convention totally to produce some of the more unsettling compositions, reflecting a disturbing moment in her career after shaking off stalkers, reporters and the media. The lyrics have always been on the edge but here she dwells on the mournful side of life, the hopelessness of unrequited love, the thoughts of escape, decisions to move on, and the blissful ignorance of betrayal. Bjork sounds cynical but intimate and reflective, and bravely moves into many styles of singing, from sustained cries to breathy whispers. It is a cold, wintery album with dripping icicles, footsteps in the snow, chilling wind chimes, cold breath on a frosty window, and icy lyrics. I rank this as among her best to this point in her career. It begins with some of her best compositions but tends to fade towards the end.

She launches wonderfully into 'Hidden Place' which is quite a dramatic Bjork composition, with very nice synth motifs and a haunting melody. It sounds more like a radio oriented single than a lot of the material on this quirky album. The album houses some of Bjork's most daring and weird music. The odd electronic percussion sounds and breathy voice on 'Cocoon' is perhaps the new direction for Bjork who is gearing towards her weirdest era ever, that will be realised on the downright bizarre "Medulla" in 2004.

The unsettling squelchy percussion continues on 'It's Not Up To You', and minimalist chimes. It is quite effective and Bjork sounds very melancholy and deranged in an endearing way.

The struggles of coping are reflected in 'Undo', with overlayed vocals and dark music orchestration. She sings with pain, "I am praying to be in a generous mood, kindness kind, to share, it's not meant to be a struggle up here." An interesting and intense song with angelic ending as if she has found peace; it almost feels like the voice of Selma from "Dancer in the Dark". Perhaps the film had some impact as her inspiration here.

'Pagan Poetry' is a very popular song, heard in live sets often, and it is easy to see why as it is definitive Bjork. The chiming harp music is beautiful, balanced by the deep bass synths and Bjork's measured rhythmic vocals. She sings coldly of dark secrets, "five fingers form a pattern yet to be matched on the surface implicity, from the darkest pit in me." I like the way Bjork sings with so much passion here and never holds back on snarling out hatred, and then her voice is mixed to the front and sounds raw and wracked in pain, "I love him I love him I love him I love him." A haunting highlight of "Vespertine".

'Frosti' has more sparkling chimes than usual, sounding like wind chimes and I guess like snowflakes dropping out of the winter sky. Bjork likes to convey childlike innocence with the use of musical boxes, clavichords and harps on her albums but she really immerses her music in the chimes on this album. It is a nice sound after all the dark nuances and Bjork's vocals are absent, though it would have been nice to hear something to add to the sound.

This merges seamlessly into 'Aurora' with Bjork's voice and an effect that may represent walking in the snow. Her voice is beautiful as she reaches the angelic high register with vocal intonations. The lyrics focus on the twilight of day, the aurora that sparkles and shoots beyond the surface, when the sun hits the cold air and causes the ripples of colour, reflecting her state of mind, the ray in the dark in the midst of turmoil.

'An Echo A Stain' has an atmospheric sound like a deranged swampy nightscape, weird frog and cricket sounds and an eerie wind howl. It is very effective to convey loneliness and alienation. Bjork sings huskily and quietly, "feel my breath on your neck, on your heart, don't say no to me, I won't see you tonight, I'm sorry you saw that." The music is quite ominous and the vocals are given a weird reverberation at times like an echo, but this is a dark song with sonic weirdness that Bjork will capitalise on with subsequent albums.

The chimes continue to dominate on 'Sun In My Mouth' and the poetry is quite beautiful. The orchestral arrangement works nicely giving a cinematic feel and Bjork's vocal range is stretched to the highest register and she sounds beautiful in these moments. After this 'Heirloom' has a strong percussion and string pads to house Bjork's vocals. She sings of memories, of things her mother baked for her, "while I'm asleep my mother comes and pours warm glowing oil into my wide open throat, everytime I feel a hoarseness I swallow warm glowing light, you make me feel so much better". Quite a nice song really with some odd sections of electronica.

'Harm of Will' is a quiet Bjork song with strings, chimes and no percussion. Bjork's overlayed breathing is soothing as is her gentle singing. Cetainly this breathy effect will be used on her next studio album, particularly on 'Pleasure Is All Mine'. The content of the song sounds rather disturbing about a secret sexual encounter, with consent as it appears, "he placed her unclothed, on top of the family tree, And if he has chosen the point while she is under him, Then leave her coily placed crouched sucking him, for it is I with her on knee." The "family tree" has phallic connotations, and may represent the act of placing an angel at the top of a Christmas tree. The song goes on to say that "he controls what there'll be, he makes his face known to none" to discard what had been done, the secret unrevealed to protect his reputation after the deed. Some research reveals that the song is actually about Will Oldham, a lover of Harmony Korine who wrote the lyrics. The album closes with 'Unison', with an upbeat rhythm that has more hope than other songs here, but not one of my favourites.

"Vespertine" is a very melancholy and icy cold winter album, and it is apparent that Bjork is shedding her skin of any radio friendliness to embrace a very cold stark approach with darker atmospheres and weirdness. She dwells on dark emotions, sadness and the futility of abuse. This breaking down of musical barriers will alienate some fans and of course draw in others. "Medulla" will further cause division as Bjork embarks on her most daring provocative album ever (hear 'Where Is The Line', 'Who Is It', 'Ancestors', 'Mouth's Cradle', 'Midvikudags' and 'Submarine' to experience the most bizarre Bjork). In any case, "Vespertine" is a great album to chill out to with Icelandic scapes of winter's chill. 3 and a half stars due to the great opening tracks.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 3/5 |


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