Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Vespertine - Bjork (Winter Albums)
SCQ Rating: 91%
If I endured one actual cool music-moment throughout the decade of my adolescence, it wasn’t obsessing over the Offspring in ’94, Smashing Pumpkins in ’95 or Third Eye Blind in ’97. Beyond loving those bands, there was an innate comfort to following such popular guitar bands; they were aggressive, they were catchy and I’ll be damned if they weren’t constructed ideally for teenage boys. My one cool music-moment wasn’t even falling head over heels for Hayden’s debut at the juvenile age of twelve, although that comes close. It was stealing my sister’s copy of Post when she went out with friends, playing ‘Enjoy’ or ‘I Miss You’ over and over on headphones (lest anyone hear it coming from my room!), and acquiring tastes that compared to my favourite artists were nothing short of otherworldly. By the time I discovered Vespertine, I was luckily several years older and far removed from caring what people heard playing in my room. From the sounds of this album, so was Bjork.
After invigorating dance music and electro-pop throughout the 90s and finishing the decade with the seminal Homogenic, Bjork looked inward. The digital mash of loops and beats that signified both Post and Homogenic were inspired by her five year relationship with DJ-artist Goldie; the former a testament to head-over-heels love, the latter a post-breakup onslaught. With her personal strife healed and behind her, Bjork began composing more minimal song structures that incorporated more ambient and electronic influences. Both genres are generously treated on the near X-rated ‘Cocoon’ and haunted whirls of ‘An Echo, A Stain’, while Bjork’s impressive beat-programming gives an organic pulse to album highlight ‘It’s Not Up To You’. Although equally dense in arrangements and diverse instrumentally, Vespertine is Bjork at her most pensive and intimate; her voice largely reduced to coos and echoes, her beats spliced into fluttered snowflakes, and lyrics that uncover her most private moments.
What makes Vespertine an ideal candidate for winter listening is its uniformed icy condition. ‘Frosti’ makes for an ideal mid-album instrumental, ‘Undo’ moves through orchestrated breezes like an oncoming blizzard, and even the percussive element of ‘Hidden Place’ is seemingly melting, as if Vespertine’s establishing shot takes place in an igloo. Perhaps Bjork’s finest moment behind the soundboard is on ‘Aurora’, however, where she melds recorded footsteps in deep snow to her own crunching beat-work. Whether you’re listening to its cold heartlessness or its window-steamed warmth, Vespertine is the perfectly sequenced, beautifully written artistic statement critics hoped for and fans thought she’d already delivered.