Björk - Vespertine - Review
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critics' view

No doubt the press flurries accompanying the release of this record will be full of references to 'bonkers Icelandic pixie Björk' or the like, but that would be a severe underestimation of what is after all a singular talent. Vespertine is Björk's most personal record, both in that she's had more to do with the music than ever before, and also that it continues with her apparent desire to write songs as confessionals. Whereas earlier songs like "Human Behaviour" and "Venus as a Boy" were observational, third person affairs, much of her subsequent writing has gravitated towards an intensely intimate self expression. Pretty much everything on Vespertine is written in the first person, to often quietly devastating emotional effect; there are moments that shock in their honesty, and much that would maybe come across as cliché in someone else's hands.

Like her last album, Homogenic, there's nothing much on the record that's immediate (save perhaps "Hidden Place" or "It's Not Up to You", both which have spine-meltingly gorgeous choruses); this is a record that reveals its secrets slowly. It's generally a more stripped down affair than previous records; muted beats like footsteps in the snow, whispers, clicks, and sighs open out occasionally into the widescreen lushness of Post and Homogenic; the songs have a mix of fragility and strength which is totally convincing.

As usual, Björk has chosen her collaborators with much care; UK electronica whiz Herbert, Californian avant laptop duo Matmos, harpist Zeena Parkins, as well as lifting a bit of e.e. cummings' poetry for "Sun in my Mouth". There are glacial, slow moving strings, glitchy electronics, blurry atmospherics and even the odd choir lurking in the background, but it's Björk's singing which steals the show, maybe because it fits so perfectly with the arrangements this time rather than sounding superimposed over them.

Though always an expressive instrument, her voice can still shatter the odd wineglass but here her phrasing seems looser, more plastic, sure enough of itself to sound small and broken at times. The effect throughout is unapologetically beautiful, totally immersive and often crushingly moving. It's difficult to pick out highlights from a record that really demands to be listened to in it's entirety, but "Cocoon" and "Undo" stand out (today, anyway). That Björk? She's Venus as a Girl…

Peter Marsh
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