Vespertine Is 20

In many ways, Bjork’s Vespertine is her coming of age record. As wonderful as her three previous studio albums had been (ignoring the album she made as a child in Iceland) there was a notable new intimacy to the lyrics. Of course, she had alluded to sex before, but here, there was a marked honesty about female agency and desire that felt more direct,less playful.

This is evinced in Nick Knight’s controversial video for Pagan Poetry which featured Bjork and then- partner Matthew Barney engaging in sexual congress, reduced into ectoplasmic blob shapes, various skin piercings, and Bjork wearing the beautiful Alexander McQueen topless gown, with pearls around the neck and breasts. The storyline alludes to Bjork stitching herself into the gown as a symbol of loyalty, like Miss Havisham in reverse: kind of poignant in retrospect.

The addition of a heavenly choir (the all-female Greenland choir) Innuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and experimental harp player Zeena Parkins brought goddess energy to the project, but a full orchestra and the soundscape duo Matmos brought yet more textures, particularly in a live setting. The film at the Royal Opera House is pretty much flawless, augmenting her pop sensibilities on tracks like It’s Not Up To You while marrying them to micro beats, field recordings and darker themes of romantic obsession as in the Sarah Kane- inspired An Echo, A Stain.

Here, the twinkling white snow and burbling geysers of the Icelandic landscape were global, music box delicacy interlaced with thunderous drumming and curious natural insect sounds. Bjork herself described the passion lurking in the frozen north as something that was rarely documented, but a trait she wanted to push to the fore.

As with the mighty volcanoes, something dormant was waiting to erupt. Vespertine sounds as otherworldly, beautiful and sensual as when it first arrived. Happy twentieth birthday.

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