Bjork – Utopia (One Little Indian)
For the birds, this one is. Or at least, it sure features a lot of birds and birdsongs. Which befits Bjork, whose melodies always had more in common with the sounds of the natural world than anything codified in human behaviour. And yet while that’s what fans have always loved about her, Bjork is now even less interested in “organizing freedom” and, on Utopia, lets her melodies be led astray by every passing breeze.
In the past 15 years, Bjork’s records have been easier to admire than to enjoy, and Utopia is no different. 2015’s Vulnicura fell prey to one of pop music’s well-worn clichés: the breakup record. On Utopia, Bjork, who once boasted that she “definitely enjoys solitude,” is re-examining what that means later in life, and how that plays out in relationships with her ex and her children. She’s wading into deep waters, and the music she’s writing doesn’t make it easier.
Collaborator Arca is incredibly inventive, as always, but wanders astray as often as Bjork’s melodies: both could use a framework onto which they could hinge these songs. Instead, it sounds like Bjork’s entire discography being tossed into a blender. That’s a standard record-reviewer cliché, but in this case it’s quite literally true. Plunderphonicist John Oswald would have made a better record than this.
The novelty this time out—and this will really be the breaking point for many—is that she’s fallen in love with flutes. Yes, flocks of flutes—a 12-piece female orchestra of flutes, naturally—are scattered throughout Utopia in ways that strings and choral voices were on 1997’s Homogenic and 2001’s Vespertine, respectively. Her use of harpsichords, accordions, bells, and other arcane instrumentation has always been one of the most intriguing things about Bjork’s musical palette, but surely one must draw the line at flutes—plural.
Utopia is largely insufferable because it’s interminable: it’s 71 minutes long, with nary a memorable melody or beat. As a collection of curious sounds that Bjork happens to be singing over, it’s interesting at best, intolerable at worst. Some of the better moments are the most minimal, when Arca either comes down or clears out, leaving just Bjork and those f’n flutes alone, on tracks like “Claimstaker” or “Saint.” By the time those songs appear in the back half of the record, however, most will have dashed out on the dystopia of Utopia. (Nov. 30, 2017)
Stream: “The Gate,” “Courtship,” “Claimstaker”