Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bjork's Vespertine

Band Name: Bjork
Year of release: 2001
Title: Vespertine
Genre: Electronic
Record Label: One Little Indian
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Bjork achieved with Verpertine a pinnacle in her career, mixing elements of her classically trained background with her always edgy and avant-garde techniques.

Vespertine arrived in 2001, shortly after the success that Bjork experienced with “Selma Songs”, her previous effort, the soundtrack for the film “Dancer in the Dark”, from Danish director Lars Von Trier, where she won the award for best actress in the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 (that album also spawned the song “I’ve seen it all” that garnered a nomination for the Oscar of best original song). Originally going to be named “Domestica” (as a reference to being constructed within the comfort of your own house), “Vespertine” crystallized Bjork’s previous efforts, namely the terrific but sadly overlooked “Homogenic”.
Launched in August of 2001, the album benefited from the publicity that Bjork had with the infamous Swan Dress, who was the same she wore for the album’s sleeve (beautiful by the way, from the French design firm M/M). Universally praised, the album saw Bjork surrounding herself with a wide variety of collaborators. In the programming she had Mark Bell (from LFO, and her usual collaborator), the American electronic duo Matmos (they had released the wonderful “A chance to cut is a chance to heal” recently, through Matador), Matthew Herbert, then riding the waves of a newfound success (after his terrific albums “Around the House” and “Bodily functions”), Thomas Knak aka Opiate (you can listen to his contribution on the album, on his own release, called “While you Were Sleeping”), her usual collaborators Marius de Vries and Valgeir Sigurdsson, while on the string/orchestration she had Vincent Mendoza (with whom se had already worked in “Selma’s Songs”) and Zeena Parkins (on the harp).
The first song, “Hidden Place” was also the first single to come out. Benefiting from a great production, the song was pure Bjork, with a subtle entrance who later developed into a crescendo with a beautiful chorus. The song also benefited from a terrific video directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. The second song “Cocoon” (which in turn was the third single, with a video directed by Eiko Ishioka – who won an Oscar for her costume creations for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) is made of smaller beats, almost indistinct - they form a tapestry where Bjork’s voice hangs, almost like a lullaby. “It’s not Up to You” picks up the tempo again, with the classical elements inserting perfectly within the structure of the song. The song is one of the strong highlights of the album – it’s possessed of an incredible joy and uplifting quality. “Undo”, which uses the rhythmic base of Thomas Knak/Opiate and the mix of Zeena Parkins harp, is a more subdued song, but also one where Bjork’s voice soars. “Pagan Poetry” was the second single, and it had a terrific video from Nick Knight (more known for his photography) – the song followed the pattern of the more subdued songs of the album, relying again on the combination of the classical elements with a subtle and discrete programming. “Frosti” is a small interlude that serves almost as a childlike interval for the next song, “Aurora”, where the programming/sounds (almost scratch like) introduce Bjork’s voice replicating an angel-like pattern. Again Zeena Parkins harp is a huge highlight. “An Echo, a Stain” comes in the tradition of “Cocoon”, with the programming and beats reducing themselves to a small layer over which the orchestral elements flow, topping it all Bjork’s voice and the chorus. The wonderful “Sun in my mouth” follows, with a start that is terribly simple and almost “naked”, upon which elements just keep getting added, namely the orchestral section that involves the whole song – the programming here is limited to a background section, leaving space for Bjork’s voice to really fly. “Crabcraft” picks up the tempo again, much like “It’s not Up to You” – the programming becomes more present, and the initial beeps may remind you of some of the sounds of “Selma’s Songs” – the song evolves to a more denser aspect, with a quicker beat showing up in the background. The album closes with two of the finest songs that Bjork has ever created – first “Harm of Will” (co-written with film director Harmony Korine), is an intimate song, made of an orchestral tapestry, composed of delicate sounds, that really focus the attention of Bjork’s voice. “Unison” brings back the programming – the layers of sounds just keep on being added, much in a way of a crescendo that just keeps going. It’s a beautiful song, one that stays in your head for quite some time.
“Vespertine” ended up on the lists of the best albums of 2001 and justifiably so – it feels like a point of reach for the path that Bjork had been traveling thus far, namely since “Debut” in 1993. This is a truly beautiful album, one that should be on everyone’s discography (or ITunes for that matter).

External Links:
Official site: