- Utopia starts with a kiss and erupts like a firework display. Every moment of "Arisen My Senses"—gilded strings, cooing voices, ecstatic birdsong—sparkles, an outpouring of joy we haven't heard from Björk in years. It's the first sign that her emotional landscape has shifted since Vulnicura, the 2015 album inspired by her breakup with the artist Matthew Barney. Though Utopia is something of a companion to its predecessor—both coproduced by Arca, both featuring classical instrumentation paired with glitchy beats—it's also the complete opposite. On "The Gate," she sings of how the chest wound on the cover of Vulnicura has become a channel through which to give and receive love. Heavy strings are replaced by ethereal flutes, and Björk's lyrics turn from sour and introspective to giddy and wondrous, as if embracing the new people and feelings around her.
The sound palette of Utopia is bright and airy. Flutes, pan pipes and other woodwinds make up the main instrumentation, as tactile but ephemeral as a warm breath on the back of your neck. It's rich with life, including birdsong—some was recorded by Björk in Iceland; some was taken from Hekura, David Toop's 1980 LP of field recordings collected between Venezuela and the Amazon. They serve as looped rhythmic accents on the title track, and sonic wallpaper on the beautiful "Saint," where the chirps blend in with reedy flutes. Arca, who Björk says was more involved in this album—he cowrote five songs and coproduced all but one—works carefully here, his sickly pitch-shifting and percussion more integrated than on Vulnicura.
Some songs centre around budding obsessions and new relationships. "Blissing Me" celebrates the seemingly mundane aspects of modern courtship: nerding out over music, sharing MP3s, texting all day. The LP is full of songs about love, marked by classical flourishes but written in sometimes plainspoken language. "I care for you," she bellows simply, and repeatedly, on "The Gate." The way she sings about love feels broad and universal. "Blissing Me" vacillates between physical love ("His hands are good in protecting me / Touching me and caressing me") and something more abstract ("Our physical union a fantasy / I just fell in love with a song").
Utopia occasionally nods to turmoil. Dark clouds rolls in with the stunning "Losss," coproduced by Rabit, which pairs harp strings with thundering drums. As Björk remembers good times from a doomed relationship, the music behind her is a duel between positive and negative thoughts. That's followed by the grotesque-sounding "Sue Me," which references a bitter custody battle as Björk sings, "I've ducked and dived / Like the mother in Soloman's tale / To spare our girl / I won't let her get caught in all of it." And then there's the clearing of "Tabula Rasa," where she sings of wanting to spare daughters from "the fuckups of the fathers." It's part of the LP's larger theme of cleansing and motherhood, where positives can come even from negatives.
Of course, not every word on Utopia should be read as autobiography. The LP is its own world, though some of it is refracted through Vulnicura's lens. "The Gate" references the previous album's visual motifs, and "Body Memory" is a lyrical response to Vulnicura's desolate centrepiece, "Black Lake," where her heart was once an "enormous lake black with potion." "Body Memory" is about fighting through mental fatigue and depression and emerging on the other side. ("Then my body memory kicks in," she sings, "I redeem myself.") Both songs are extended epics, but the Icelandic choir and uplifting drums on "Body Memory" fill the void of "Black Lake." The dark liquid that once represented Björk's emptiness becomes a source of love that gushes and flows through her. Where once it felt suffocating, here it feels open and endless.
01. Arisen My Senses
02. Blissing Me
03. The Gate
05. Body Memory
06. Features Creatures
09. Sue Me
10. Tabula Rasa
14. Future Forever