The clicks and hums that make up the aural landscape of Vespertine, Bjork's first studio release in four years, embrace the digital medium in much the same way that Radiohead's pair of albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, did. And like Radiohead's static-charged, non-linear compositions, Vespertine is preoccupied with the sound of music, not its emotional attachment to anything human. As she did on her previous two albums, 1995's Post and 1997's Homogenic, Bjork provides a compelling exploration of the wide open spaces between the melodies. Vespertine is even more esoteric than either of its predecessors. Last year's SelmaSongs EP (a soundtrack to Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, in which Bjork starred) combined Hollywood-musical flash with zaps of electronica. On it, Bjork often seemed carried away and exhilarated by the music -- a by-product, perhaps, of her role as a musical-obsessed working-class woman slowly going blind.
Vespertine isn't as showy as SelmaSongs, and is, in a way, her most subtle work. It's a beautiful, haunting, and complex album of new-millennium orchestral and found sounds. Collaborating with several old friends (Guy Sigsworth, Mark Bell) and some new whiz kids (Matmos, Matthew Herbert), Bjork slips into each song fluently, merging Vespertine into a thematic set. When she goes grand, she puts huge, recurring sweeps of choral voices beneath the lush soundscapes. Other times, she keeps it appealingly minimal ("Cocoon" is laced with pops and scratches, and seems to have been constructed out of a single sketchy working track). And on the best cuts, such as the opening number, "Hidden Place," Bjork combines the two, starting small and ending big. Bjork has said Vespertine is an amalgam of the spirit and rhythms of the universe. Leave it to her, an interesting character study and affable eccentric herself, to give this stunning collection of post-modern pop a far-out, esoteric meaning.
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