In retrospect, I don’t think I ever gave Vespertine a fair chance. I was absolutely in love with Homogenic and I eagerly awaited the next release, hoping for that instant satisfaction I got with previous releases. Vespertine would not be that album, at least not at that time. As the years have passed and I, in turn, have matured, I have come to appreciate this album more and more. Vespertine is the sound of a woman in her thirties, coming into her own and looking inward for inspiration.
Compared with the lavish orchestrations of Homogenic and the electronic punkish quality of Post, Vespertine is quiet and introspective. Perhaps it was her experience playing a different character in “Dancer in the Dark” that caused Björk to examine herself in such a profound way. Above all though, Vespertine seems to be an album of Björk falling in love. In “Hidden Place,” (a wonderful choice of a first single) Björk expertly captures the unsure feeling of being loved: “through the warmest cord of care/ your love was sent to me/ I’m not sure what to do with it/ or where to put it.” Musically, “Hidden Place” is sublime with a glitchy melodic loop and an underlying deep sub-bass throughout. Along with Björk’s signature voice, she invited a choir of singers and they lend an otherworldly tone to the song.
“Cocoon” is one of Bjork’s most direct love songs. The pitter-patter of the programming by Thomas Knak echoes the flutters of the heart, albeit in a static-like sort of way. Björk sings in a whisper and sounds girlish in her surprise of finding a boy who loves her. Her lyrics are revelatory and any person can identify with her surprise: “who would have known that a boy like him/ would have entered me lightly restoring my blisses.” The song is remarkably personal and doesn’t hide behind an excess of metaphors.
Though I somehow doubt that Björk was singing about her twenties, I find that “Undo” is lovingly directed at that age. I’ve found that much of the twenties is a restless period and often finds people trying too hard to be something in life (I am not exempt from this observation). In “Undo” Björk sings, knowingly, “it’s not means to be a strife/ it’s not meant to be a struggle uphill.” Listening to the album, I feel that Björk has found an inner calm and the music reflects that. Instead of the variety of genres that Björk visited in previous albums, Vespertine is more unison in sound. Even when calling on artists like Matmos and Matthew Herbert, they keep with the more intimate sound of the album.
Though “Pagan Poetry” is my favorite song on the album, I can’t quite articulate what it is about the song that I love. It’s another love song and I can’t help but notice that in all the songs about a man (ok, let’s just say it: Matthew Barney), Björk dwells on the hands or the touch, which, leads to a sense of feeling safe. Finding her center, Björk has become more unabashed of her emotions ending the song with “I love him, I love him, I love him” which defies her statement of “this time I’m gonna keep me to myself.” It perfectly captures the rapture of unexpected love.
While I adore the lavish sounds of Homogenic, I believe that Vespertine is a more apt description of Björk as a person. Incredibly personal, many of the songs on Vespertine sound as if Bjork is maturing as a person and finding peace with the person she has grown into. She has shed the tumultuous twenties and embraced decidedly more quiet joys. Björk has always explored her femininity in her music, yet Vespertine is the truly defining feminine album from her. Whether it’s singing about love or about the goddess Aurora, the songs are an examination of being a woman. While I could never guess how these songs would speak to me if I were a man, I can say that as a woman I have become utterly enchanted by Björk’s quiet femininity.
Aphex Twin – Drukqs
Junior Boys – Last Exit
Radiohead – Amnesiac