No, it's not just a catchy title, both musically and literally Bjork is naked on the dual disc release Vespertine (___Surrounded). I was pleased to get this fourth official album from Bjork in her Bjork Box, a box of seven studio albums all in dual disc format with a surround sound DVD on one side, and a regular CD on the other. Many of the discs contain videos, and Vespertine is one of them. Although I say it is Bjork's fourth release (after Debut, Post and Homogenic it really isn't. First she released a soundtrack album to accompany Dancer in the Dark called Selma Songs. She released her first album at age 12, she did a jazz album called Glink Glo and of course some music with the Sugar Cubes.
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Anyway, Bjork takes a new direction here, and I learned a lot about this album by watching an interview with Bjork that was included on her Bjork Live at the Royal Opera House DVD. (A really interesting concert that I have linked to my review at the bottom of the page). She wanted to take small sounds, micro beats and soft sounds and magnify them to make music out of them. The videos that accompany them are also highly creative.
The cover of the album features Bjork laying seductively on a stone walk wearing only her swan. (You all remember the swan right?). Superimposed over her black and white photo is an etching of a swan and the title of the album Vespertine.
My review of this album focuses on the SURROUND SOUND in DTS 5.1 rather than the original studio album (of which there are many fine reviews already). There is also a Dolby Digital Surround Sound mix on the DVD side, I just prefer DTS. The album features a dozen songs of which I will focus on some, and just comment briefly on the others.
The overall feel of the album is more personal, more quiet, and more intimate. The album does seem like Bjork baring her soul and it has a soft quiet quality to it that is quite different than her other works. Hidden Place starts the album, and it is a reflective song There lies my passion, hidden / There lies my love / I'll hide it under a blanket lull it to sleep / I'll keep it in a hidden place, I'll keep it in a hidden place, keep it in a hidden place Bjork almost whispers the lyrics. The music is remixed orchestral sweeps which sound like they were played backwards.
Cocoon has beautiful lyrics and subtle music which is all but ruined by an overlying sound. Some of you reading this may not remember records, but for those that do; Remember the sound that your stereo made when the record ended, and the needle would just go around and around on the inner part of the record? It wasn't a pleasant sound, it was rather annoying. That is the EXACT sound that Bjork has decided to overlay on this otherwise wonderful song. I hope one day she remixes it WITHOUT this annoying sound.
It's Not Up to You More of the strange microsounds start this song before Bjorks beautiful voice breaks through. Soon traditional strings join in. The blend of orchestral sounds, Bjork's voice and the strange noises here isn't as successful as on other albums. I found the sounds more distracting than pleasing.
Undo This is just a nice quiet song, backed with a strong beat. Alien landscapes appear in my mind listening to this song. I envision Bjork as some sort of sprite in a fantasy world.
Pagan Poetry Japanese strings begin this song. Then strange rhythms and sounds join in. I really like one part of the song where everything is quiet and Bjork just sings I love him, I love him, I love him I love him. In the surround channels, a chorus whispers she loves him, she loves him Bjorks voice sounds so passionate and longing. In the video you can see the emotion on her face. I really liked the blend of Japanese strings, heavy electronic percussion and Bjorks voice on this song.
Frost An assortment of what sounds like wind chimes begins this song. It is an instrumental, and I'm sorry to say it is somewhat boring.
Aurora I saw this song performed in concert on one of Bjorks concert DVDs so I can identify the sound that starts the song. It is a man walking on crushed stone! Bjork and her odd sounds. This is another blend of soft sounds like chimes, other sounds like loose speaker connections and Bjork's voice.
The remaining songs really just continue the themes described above. The songs are: An Echo, a Stain, Sun in my Mouth, Heirloom, Harm of Will and Unison. The songs sort of blend into one another, and provide for interesting background music for whatever you are doing. This is a complete departure from the pop and electronica of her earlier albums. I really liked the quiet aspect of the songs, but many of the songs have noises that distract from the quiet nature of the songs instead of adding to them. I would love to hear this album remixed, leaving in Bjork's voice and the subtle chimes, and microbeats and strings, but leave out the popping noises. Bjork is very subdued on her singing here, and her voice has a beautiful ethereal quality with none of the screaming that punctuate many of her earler songs. Vespertine is definitely a quieter Bjork album. The surround sound adds depth and spatiality to the mix, and Bjork certainly puts the surround in surround sound music.
Hidden Place begins with Bjork apparently naked from the shoulders up. The camera zooms in on her face, and you can see every pore in her cheeks, the details in her eyes and the jet black strands of her hair. Then it just plain gets strange. Odd colored gels flow from her eyes down her face and into her mouth. Then they reemerge and go up her nose. This repeats throughout the video. As beautiful as Bjork is, I did not find it attractive to watch liquids flow up into her nose.
Pagan Poetry starts with what appears to be line drawings of some sort of sensual activity. It actually turns out to be pearl earrings being inserted into Bjork's ear lobe. Real images go back and forth between line drawings of the same. Eventually, the camera rolls back and reveals Bjork in a dress made entirely of pearls. Instead of the cleavage that many female singers rely on in stage outfits, Bjorks outfit starts below her breasts, so she is basically half naked throughout the video. I couldn't decide if it was sensual, erotic or just strange.
Cocoon Well either Bjork is naked and painted white here, or she is wearing a tight form fitting white body suit, because she appears to be completely nude and powder white. Instead of being sexy though, it just gets strange as Bjork coaxes red ribbons out of her nipples. Yes, you did read that correctly. She moves her arms and hands, and the ribbons grow longer and swirl around as Bjork guides them. Soon the ribbons start to wrap her up from her feet, until by the end of the video she is wrapped in a large red ribbon cocoon.
It's in our Hands Bjork runs around a sea floor lit only by a dull green phosphorescent light. Then she is walking through a jungle lit by the same dull green light. In many of the scenes, Bjork is miniature in size, so common creatures like bugs, worms and frogs dwarf her. It is rather interesting, but not one of her best.
Nature is Ancient is lit by a dull blue light and the images we see appear microscopic. Small organisms sway and float to the Bjork beat. It is a combination of a show on micro organisms on the Discovery Channel and Bjork's music. Actually, I thought this video was rather cool! This song is also not on the CD, so its like a bonus song!
If you want to see any of these Bjork videos you can check them out on her website, Bjork.com. I will forewarn you however, the videos are more strange and artistic than sexual or erotic.
Summary Despite the videos, I cannot say this is my favorite Bjork album. I like it, but I don't love it the way I did the first three. I do like that Bjork takes new directions with each album, I just didn't care for this particular direction as much as others. You may. For those who just think Bjork is a strange icelandic woman who uses wierd noises and calls them music, Vespertine will only serve to illustrate their point. However, if you can get past the sometimes annoying sounds on the album, the underlying music and Bjorks subdued and beautiful voice do shine through on this album.
For live interpretations of Vespertine and other songs you may want to check out:
Bjork - Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House