Björk‘s ninth studio album Utopia will no doubt please longtime fans and baffle many others. Its rich, layered production features steady, evolving, experimental sonic textures and complex melodies. This avant-garde style has become somewhat synonymous with Björk releases, and her explorations on this album are evident of a confident, self-aware artist who refuses to compromise. Utopia offers something which is refreshing and truly unique, yet which will sit nicely alongside her previous work.
Harps, flutes, sampled sound effects and glitchy electronic drums comprise the majority of the album’s instrumentation. And with a noticeable lack of choruses or radio-friendly singles, it is best to approach Utopia as a work of art.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about it is that it’s unclear whether the Icelandic experimental singer-songwriter is really determined in her quest to explore new ground, or if she’s just poking fun at herself. She admitted in a recent interview with The Guardian that many people miss the jokes in her lyrics.
Her use of dynamic changes is clever and effective; its peaks are reached at appropriate intervals. The album reaches somewhat of a crescendo at the midway point, towards the end of “Losss”, when the carefully constructed instrumentation is enveloped by heavy, distorted, industrial drums. “Sue Me” dips briefly into the psychedelic realm, with soft and subtle yet effective phase effects on both the vocals and instrumentation.
Utopia is a stunning, puzzling piece of art which put quite simply, is unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. It’s definitely worth a listen. But this is an album which will reward listeners who are willing to invest their time, close their eyes and listen with a decent pair of headphones.