Natural and synthetic, male and female, anger and ecstasy, Utopia challenges casual yet arbitrary distinction. Half imagined half lived, it embraces both emotional realism and abstract fantasy. Paired with producer Arca, Björk lays out a warped instrumental pallet, pulsing with warped textures and distorted beats. Yet they balance alongside the rawness of unembellished vocals and classical instrumentation.
‘Arisen My Senses’ opens with orchestral violence, preceding lead single ‘Blissing Me’. It’s here that Bjork begins to colour her world. The sweeping and textured uplifts of ‘The Gate’ and ‘Body Memory’ are staggering bodies of musical work unto themselves.
From here Utopia continues to skirt crisis and elevation. Even at her spaciest, as on ‘Features Creatures’, Björk is still delivering intelligent yet playful lyrical gems like “Assembling a man/Googling love/Warming my heart on this log-fire of love”. Reflective of the information-rich attention-deficit world of the present, there’s a number of political, romantic, environmental and surreal narratives which thread simultaneously throughout the record. Yet in the moment she captures your attention Guðmundsdóttir cuts across potent and direct.
Boldly new and purely emotive, Björk may be a musical veteran but continues to bear the banner of pop modernity. Shouldn’t this onus have shifted onto a generation of artists many decades her junior? Utopia dispenses with this idea too.
Bjork disposes of cliché while making it all the clearer that it’s possible to make complex yet arresting statements. 2017 has been a challenging year yet Utopia’ veers away from the thematic trend of raging against the moment. It points forward to the future while firmly placing a world of possibility within its listeners’ grasp.