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CD of The Week

Week of 12/04/17

    Björk - Utopia (One Little Indian)

    2015's seismic Vulnicura presented listeners with a Björk broken. Over 9 string-drenched, soul-scorching tracks, she charted the dissolution of her long-term romantic partnership, and her struggle to pick up the pieces afterwards. To hear it, the making of that album (and subsequent tour) left her emotionally drained, but it also left her feeling inspired, eager to continue pursuing her newfound musical partnership with Venezuelan electronic wunderkind Arca into more joyous, optimistic territory. That territory has grown into her wonderful new album Utopia. As sumptuous and generous a sonic statement as she's ever done, it offers a bright beacon of light at the end of her darkest hour, not to mention in the midst of a dark time in the world at large.

    After the heaviness of its predecessor, Utopia feels light as a feather thanks to Björk's use of flutes and exotic bird sounds throughout its 14 songs. The whimsy of those woodwinds provides a capricious counterpoint to Arca's sharp, shuffling beats that are as stunning as those for Vulnicura but less stark, even less static. Those beats stutter forward, almost Bambi-like, through these soundscapes in perfect sync with Björk as she grows to love again, and love loving again. She initially described this as her "Tinder album," and there is a somewhat literal representation of that in the lyrics of mid-album highlight "Courtship," but this album is more concerned with the willingness to welcome someone, anyone in again--her previous album's chest wound mutated into "The Gate"--as opposed to seeking any specific someone out.

    Specific someones do get called out for specific reasons, however. The tear-jerkingly beautiful new single "Blissing Me" describes feeling love again over the exchange of texts and MP3s with a younger admirer, while the mic-dropping "Sue Me" and "Tabula Rasa" reflect on the transgressions of her ex, addressing his retaliatory custody suit after Vulnicura in the former and his infidelity in the latter. In both songs, she offers a wish that the "fuckups" of not just her daughter's father, but all fathers before and after him can be left behind in the interest of being better, doing better, together.

    It's a powerful mission statement that only makes Utopia's paradise of love and hope seem all the more perfect. Learning to love again and live again in the face of such an absence of love right now is something well worth proving possible. Björk's returned sense of exploration, and the Utopia that she's found and built up from it, will remind you that most hells, both personal and political, are only temporary. Worlds of wonder like this album are always waiting to be discovered afterwards, if you're willing.
    Review by Rob Huff

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