There’s no way around it: Björk is a weirdo. Not a look-at-me-I’m-so-quirky weirdo. Just a real, genuine, honest-to-God weirdo. Since the early 1990s, the avant-garde artist has turned the pop world on its head with her tunes. On her latest effort “Utopia,” she has teamed up with fellow weirdo Arca, an electronic producer.
“Utopia” is a concept album about the process of falling in love. Most of the songs lack choruses. Also, most of the songs lack a driving rhythm. Typically, drums act as an opiate to the listener, but on “Utopia” drum sounds act as a distraction. The whimsical folk melodies of flutes and harps war with the haphazard percussive explosions. This exemplifies the simultaneously wonderful and harsh feelings relationships bring. This, no doubt, comes from Arca. He provides a dense and textured sonic palette, requiring several listens to pick apart.
Björk creates an ethereal atmosphere as blissfully disorienting as developing feelings for someone. However, this paradise does not seem as idyllic as the title would imply. She expresses the fear of relying on someone else in “The Gate,” singing, “Didn’t used to be so needy/Just more broken than normal/Proud self-sufficiency” and on “Body Memory,” singing, “Love lured me here/Into a stagnant state.” This utopia sounds pretty dystopian when she sings “My instinct has been shouting at me for years/Saying, ‘Let’s get out of here!’/Huge toxic tumor bulging underneath the ground here/Need to purify the air here/Purify, purify, purify toxicity” on the title track. When she repeats “I care for you” on “The Gate,” it seems like less affectionate and more spiteful.
She examines the semantics of love in modern times. On “Features Creatures” she sings “Isn’t it odd?/Isn’t it peculiar?/These statistics of my mind/Shuffling your features/Assembling a man/Googling love.” She tackles online dating on “Courtship.” She addresses her custody battle on “Sue Me.” She describes the feeling of having so much love inside ready to spew, but not knowing who is worth it: “Oh, how to capture all this love/And find a pathway for it/Like threading an ocean through a needle/River through a keyhole.”
Another big theme on the album is nature. A lot of the songs contain ambient noises of birds. On “Claimstaker” she sings “This forest is in me/I immerse me/This is my home.” On “Body Memory” she sings “First snow of Winter/I’m walking hills and valleys/Adore this mystical fog.” She argues that we should not get caught up in drama or romance, but keep in touch with the solid world around us, as well as our natural selves.
Björk has consistently released music since 1990. So many pretentious artists go through cycles of rejecting the limelight then returning to grace us with their genius, just to stroke their ego (I’m looking at you, James Murphy). She may want people to believe she’s eccentric, but her job is a singer/songwriter and she works diligently. Music is in her DNA. In the early songs of “Utopia,” she even intertwines music into the theme of falling in love. On “Arisen My Senses” she sings, “Just that kiss was all there is/My palms pulsating of the things I want to do to you/Just that kiss is all there is/Weaving a mixtape with every crossfade.” On “Blissing,” she sings, “Is this excess texting a blessing?/Two music nerds obsessing/He reminds me of the love in me/I’m celebrating on a vibrancy/Sending each other MP3s/Falling in love to a song.” Björk seems like one of those people that would either become a famous musician or live on the street. No in between.
Nothing irritates me more than a condescending celebrity who insists they are “just a regular person” in order to seem relatable. Give me a break. Björk never allows the listener to forget she comes from somewhere else. Sure, she rolls her Rs out of Icelandic solidarity, but it goes deeper than that. She wants people to believe she comes from another planet. Sometimes I’m convinced. Who the hell wants to listen to an album by “just a regular person?” I want to listen to an album by an alien, or at the very least a weirdo.
Perhaps the reason she has stayed relevant longer than her contemporaries like The Knife or Portishead is because Björk has no interest in pandering to the status quo. For better or worse, she seems naive to what is currently popular. She combines ancient chamber music with futuristic sounds to make something timeless.
Toward the end, the drums disappear, allowing for a more vulnerable feel. The last song “Future Forever” is a lush, sparse ballad, sounding the way a Bon Iver or a Frank Ocean would finish an album. Perhaps she is not as out of touch as she would like us to think. The song is somber but optimistic: “Imagine a future and be in it/Feel this incredible nurture, soak it in/Your past is on loop, turn it off/See this possible future and be in it.”
You cannot dance to Björk’s music at a party or sing along to it in the car with your friends. Björk’s music acts in the same way as an abstract art piece: it confuses you, but it also creates a profound emotional effect. The world needs more weirdos like Björk.