If Björk’s first four albums are her four seasons – Debut as Summer, Post as Autumn, Homogenic as Winter – then Vespertine is glorious Spring. It’s the sound of fluttering flowers, leaves swaying in the wind, and candles flickering on the kitchen counter, all at once. All the wide, open, omnipresent sounds of her earlier work is nowhere to be seen – while those influences in trip hop and electronica still ring true, Vespertine is an album far more intimate and introspective than most. Glitchy electronics coincide with clavichords and harps, but the outcome is surprisingly human, evoking rich scenes of domestic bliss and renewed love. It’s wintery art pop that flirts with autumnal folktronica, but ultimately, a sweet sort of mess.
Straight from the album’s onset, opener Hidden Place sets the tone for the remainder of Vespertine to follow – emerging from winter, Homogenic’s distorted drumwork has been abandoned in favour of wispy ‘microbeats’ of jangling keys and fingers tapping, while Björk’s orchestral electronica has been exchanged for far folkier atmospherics. Vocals glide over lowkey, sometimes even lo-fi voyages through a myriad of sounds. Lush but light instrumentation rules Vespertine, in the form of harps, clavichords, celestas, and even music boxes put together solely for the album; tracks like It’s Not Up To You and the endlessly lush Pagan Poetry come together as grand art pop ballads, but even subtler cuts like Aurora and instrumental interlude Frosti combine electronics and acoustics in crystalline and crisp sounding compositions.
The wealth of new stylistic influences is obvious throughout Vespertine, but in the best possible way – Björk appropriates experimental electronica to form her own musical obscura, resulting in songs with uniquely distinct identities. Collaborators including glitch artists like Matmos, Opiate, and Console, as well as lyrical and conceptual muses such as poet E.E. Cummings and Harmony Korine all come together on Vespertine, defining Björk’s most unmistakable incarnation of her sound.
For all its sonorous and symphonious moments, Vespertine bears just as many colder, perhaps darker ones. Cocoon’s flittering drums and gloomy plucks flicker and float around an intimate closeup shot with Björk’s voice, while the moody and electronica rich Heirloom’s sorrowful keyboards bring out the songstress’ most melancholic side. Moments like the string laden Sun In My Mouth or the endlessly winterlike An Echo An Stain are this album’s most bittersweet moments, drawing on equal parts romance, loss, and rejuvenation through Björk’s uniquely baroque styled glitch pop.
Björk has never been an artist afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, and Vespertine is no different. Whether it’s musings on love or open declarations of female sexuality, Björk refuses to shy away from human desire. Amidst Pagan Poetry’s glossy harps and booming bass, Björk equates female sexuality with imagery of blooming flowers and swirling black lilies, while It’s Not Up To You sees the singer reject intimacy in favour of self determination and self love. Vespertine’s instrumentation is so grounded in Björk’s thematic concepts – Hidden Place’s layered choirs and warped electronics are warm and inviting, yet fantastical, all at once, while Undo’s subtlety and softness parallels the song’s emotional intimacy. And closing track Unison – with grandiose choirs, vivid string sections, and eclectic breakbeats, Björk captures the emotions of love and unity in a way only she could, creating a truly empowering and beautiful finale to the album.
Vespertine is one of those truly unique and timeless records – equal parts innovative as it is immersive. Few artists create such a distinct identity for themselves as much as Björk does; every stylistic innovation from her first three albums is either lost or completely re-imagined for Vespertine and its intimate domestics. While Björk may have described it as a Winter album, Vespertine is an album far more preoccupied with renewal, rejuvenation, and Spring than anything else.