If you don’t listen to Björk, you’re missing out. In terms of artists that have really made their own distinct sound/impact on the world of music, she is definitely one of them, with what’s now 10 albums under her belt. I went into this album expecting something that would take a long time to digest but that I would grow to love. Unfortunately this didn’t end up being the case- at all.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still a few high points in the record- this is still the same Björk that’s constantly experimenting, reinventing her sound. Utopia was produced with the help of Arca, resulting in a glitchy/wonky effect in the background of a lot of the songs. Add in some flute/harp passages, Björk’s dreamy, elegant vocals, and you pretty much have the sonic landscape of the album. The record touches on themes of finding love with someone new and seeing your world seem to reinvent itself and feel brighter, simpler.
The flutes and strings compliment Björk’s voice well and bring you to a state of bliss. The harp in Blissing Me is gorgeous and definitely fits the song’s instrumental tone. The sounds of a hatching bird on Utopia complemented by the string sections in the background and flute work well together. The lyrics definitely make sense with the instrumentals as well that encourage moving forward to a new, fresh, purer life with someone new. In a lot of places, most notably tracks like The Gate, Claimstaker, and Losss, the production is pretty disjoined and spaced out. Sometimes it works and adds to the overall feel of the song, like on The Gate; this track definitely took multiple listens for it to really translate to me, but how unattached the elements are make it incredibly unique and beautiful.
However, in other areas like Body Memory or Courtship, it’s honestly just a mess and sounds like Björk and Arca are trying to awkwardly make all of these elements work together that don’t and aren’t going to. The sporadic glitch in the background is distracting and doesn’t fit with the tone of the flutes and strings whatsoever. Body Memory is actually kind of inexcusable and just sounds like almost 10 minutes of a bunch of random elements slapped together for the sake of it. Unfortunately after this point in the album this is how a lot of the songs begin to sound, and not even in a way that’s interesting or compelling enough to be worth talking about.
Another issue in the second half of the record is that a lot of the times the songs that aren’t trying to do so many different things at once are just boring or indistinguishable from the others even after multiple listens, like Tabula Rasa, or Saint, or the random minute long flute section on Paradisia, as if we hadn’t already been listening to a whole album of extremely similar passages. Between 20 and 30 minutes of material probably could’ve been cut from the album without any major loss of ideas.
The songwriting is also just really lacking here. In multiple areas Björk’s lyrics to me honestly just seem like they were taken from a middle schooler’s diary about someone they just developed a crush on. Not that new love is inherently a bad thing to talk or write about, but these verses are just painfully cliché a lot of the time, like in Blissing Me (“All of my mouth was kissing him, now into the air I am missing him” / “Is this excess texting a blessing? Two music nerds obsessing”) or Features Creatures (“When I spot someone who is same height as you and goes to same record stores, I literally think I am five minutes away from love”). This isn’t the case throughout the whole record as I really enjoy some of the ideas on songs like Losss, but it’s enough of a problem that it definitely affects the experience listening to it. Where the lyrics aren’t cliché, they’re just uninteresting. The vocal melodies are also seriously lacking at many points, a lot of this record feels like directionless singing against the already messy production that was just slapped together.
I don’t know, guys. I kept expecting to discover more about this album and like it better every time I listened to it, but instead I became more and more turned off by it and tempted to put something else on. Which is why it’s not really fair for me to give this more than what I’m giving it. Don’t get me wrong though, this hurts, as I really love a lot of the other material I’ve heard from Björk and I wanted to feel the same about Utopia. There’s always her next release, I guess.