Music Review: Björk – Vespertine (2001)

Many albums receive praise for a including a few good songs combined with filler that maintains a consistent mood.  Upon first listen, Vespertine may be suspected of this common crime.  However, once one delves into the wonderfully wintry, celestial theme of the album they’ll find that Vespertine is easily Björk’s most consistent work to date, in both overall sound and individual song quality.  Not only is Vespertine perhaps Björk’s strongest collection of songs yet, it avoids treading the waters of the well-received Homogenic.  Vespertine is the perfect progression from Homogenic; it’s entirely different, but unmistakably Björk in every way; emotional, sensual, foreign, passionate, and at times just plain weird… it’s all here.

Opener “Hidden Place” wastes no time in setting the mood for the album.  The background choir superbly accentuates a wavering beat, sometimes carrying the song on its power, and sometimes making way for Björk’s voice, which is stronger here than on any of her previous work.  On following track “Cocoon” the microphone could be thought to be lodged somewhere in Björk’s throat, so intimate and raw is her voice.  “Cocoon” establishes a sexual theme (hinted at with “Hidden Place”’s “We’ll go to a hidden place”) with the lyrics “Who would have known that a boy like him after sharing my core would stay going nowhere?” and “He slides inside, half awake, half asleep, we faint back into sleephood”.

More striking than the unapologetic intimacy and occasionally blatant sexuality of the lyrics permeating Vespertine, is the fact that they are set to some of the most foreign, mythical arrangements you’re likely to hear in a good while.  But not only is it remarkably distinct, complex and varied, it’s easy to grasp, making it delightful for both those who like to leave a disc in their stereo for weeks and those who may pass by briefly.  The arrangements are organic, beautiful, and both warm and cold depending on who you are.  Rarely does music flow through an album this beautifully and consistently, and rarer still is that music’s primary purpose to support for the vocals.  Björk has improved upon her voice with each release, and on Vespertine she soars far above an already very strong performance on Homogenic.  There is no doubt that Björk’s is one of the most memorable and enjoyable voices of music today.

Vespertine never reaches the soaring heights of Homogenic’s “Bachelorette”, and doing so would be inappropriate given the mood of the album.  However, “It’s Not Up to Me” comes close, with a soaring chorus and a sweeping arrangement that will make the song a stand out on first listen.  Similarly, “Pagan Poetry” takes Vespertine to one of its greatest highs, although the standout moment of the track is the last minute, in which after a tremendous buildup, Björk’s voice suddenly becomes isolated in silence, and she repeats with almost awkwardly honest fervor, “I love him, I love him, I love him”.

“Frosti” and “Aurora” represent the iciest moments on the album, and although neither will go down as one of Björk’s best works, they nevertheless continue the direction perfectly into “An Echo, A Stain”, which sounds like the stardust shot up from the wake of Kid A’s impact, slowly sprinkling, trickling down, somehow more beautiful in its  intricacy than anything that could have caused it.  When Björks croons “You can’t say no to me” and then almost ashamedly admits “I can’t say no to you”, the listener has no choice but to be drawn into the vocals if they have somehow not already been by now.  “Harm of Will” and “Unison” close the album like the sunrise ends the night; the stars begin to fade, the sky turns blank for a brief moment, and signs of life begin to show.  After “Harm of Will”’s gorgeous, passionate hush, “Unison” unmistakably brings on the spring, reminiscing on the winter nights but upbeat and looking forward.

Vespertine is not quite mysterious; the melodies are too apparent and the lyrics too intimate for that.  The music begs to be a myth, a story only to be understood by those studying the stars.  Fortunately for us, this is the one area in which it doesn’t achieve its aspirations.  It’s a thing of celestial beauty, cold but with a simmering soul, and it’s here for anyone to ponder and understand that is willing to listen.

Final Score: 9.4/10

Highlights: Hidden Place, It’s Not Up to You, Pagan Poetry, An Echo A Stain


One Response to “Music Review: Björk – Vespertine (2001)”

  1. Hello, I can’t understand how to add your blog ( ) in my rss reader

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