The Ice Melts: Bjîrk, the New Music, and Hidden Places

Michael Konigsberg
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Vespertine. The word titling Bjîrk’s new album means “flourishing in the evening,” like an opening flower constellation in the fragrant sky. Cool droplets of stars trickle off the petals, down the glacier head. The ice retreats, a river flows, and a new valley is carved to bask in the lush night.

She nested in it. From it music came.

The faerie gift of poetically receiving nature has always glittered from within the Bjîrk. From her solo debut at 11, through numerous bands and side projects, her elfin wail-and-coo has called ears back through other-realm flights. She has matured, but only to deepen her access to that potent magic. Now, four years since her last solo album, she returns in “Vespertine,” an ethereal forest of reflected love.

Bjîrk has sung her heart out through love and loss, and the key was innocence, faith that even in bloodiest heartbreak she could sing out her pain. But experience has tempered angst into sweet notes. Since returning to her native Iceland, she is at peace at home, at home in herself, a woman in delicate voice.

Where once she detonated you with floor-to-floor techno jubilations and electronic howls – or stroked you with softer versions of the same – she departs, a virtuoso producer, for higher musicality. Stronger structure holds up gossamer instrumentation webs like branches to the leaves. Her sensitive imagination ripens, and one can hear the act of it in the programming sounds of fruits plumping, stretching, and coloring.

“Hidden Place” is the creative thrill of the album, and we hear the voice that’s learned rare control, singing secret radiant love with a special He. Cleverly intoned by drone riffs that recall the rugged individualist “Hunter” from “Homogenic,” Inuit choirgirls arise from primeval depths to celestial heights in the ecstasy of love. Flute phrases and electro-bloops bubble over from this stellar wind.

The wind subsides, and the album travels through bright spots and light air. “Cocoon” is the high, breathy afterglow of exquisite love-making – “A saintly trance. … He’s still inside me!!! … A train of pearls, cabin by cabin, is shot precisely/ across an ocean/ From a mouth..” She exhales. “An Echo, a Stain” creates something even rarer in modern music, a portal into the astral dimension, where time flows in both directions and spirits reveal your heart’s inner space better and more simply than you could guess. Choirgirl voices diffuse light around you. Below, there are gurgles – your sleeping, confused, body.

Bjîrk tells that love and light can’t but enter darkness, as in “Pagan Poetry.” A heavy-handed bassline drags on the text, but the song still draws submission to the death of old solitude (in her “swirling black lilies”) as one is stunned by the discovery of one’s other half.

But harmony does win out in the final “Unison,” the dawn after dreaming night.

Is it any less a wonder that the concrete jungle can’t darken out beauty? Magic won’t be built out. Solar creativity beckons ferns in the cracks, and drops of true love melting irrigate them in trickling.

Thank you, Bjîrk.