Perhaps being the most sonically beautiful album I’ve heard all year, this work creates one connected, alien world through important transformations and daring experimentation in the timbre with switches of unique synthesizer and flute dominance, and while there wasn’t a strong balance in quality between the sound and the less spirited melodic layer, the balance of musical priorities was perfect, shaping an experience that those not intimidated by music as an art will love.
Musical beauty obviously takes on multiple forms and has several layers to it, but from a one-dimensional sonic perspective, this may be the most beautiful album I have heard all year. Bjork is one of most consistent and brilliant living musicians at blending different musical worlds together and combining techniques of the past with the ever-growing available resources of the present. This album’s obvious triumph is in the completely enthralling timbre that goes through many important transformations and daring experimentation while spinning out one long, connected journey through an unexplored world. I don’t normally comment on this when reviewing music, but the album title is brilliant. We all have our different ideas about what a “utopia” looks like or sounds like, but within this work we are given a completely new, unexpected, and fascinating look into how an artist actually manifests it herself. Throughout the many different electroacoustic textures presented, I felt like there was a conscious choice to create one connected, alien world. However, it was never meant to be perfection, or an obvious utopia; it was nothing more than something unexplored and state of the art. The overall oddities in the created electronic sounds themselves, as well as their developing interaction with acoustic sound, created a timbre that was ultimately more important and rewarding than attempting some sort of smooth perfection. The single greatest aspect of the timbre was the wonderful flow between synthesizer dominance and flute chorus dominance. The textural changes were unique, well placed, and surprisingly under the radar so that the listener’s attention is not locked into singular movements. That was important in order for the listener to be lost in the wash of exploration, which is the true goal. When there is one obvious perceptive musical layer that dominates the entire work, as the timbre does here, it can be difficult to maintain a balance that could make the music even more magical and noteworthy. While the sound is completely captivating from start to finish, the music became a balancing act in finding intrigue through other means so as to not only keep interest but to create a strong, multi-dimensional work. It’s nice when the decisions a musician has to make in terms of balance goes unnoticed to the listener, but it was a bit too perceivable in this work. Bjork’s melodic vocalizations were at two ends of a spectrum: they were either very discreet and uneventful, or they were wild and super distinctive. The melodies were almost always out of time with the rest of the music, further enhancing the goal of getting lost in the world. I enjoyed the overall role of the melody, but nothing was overly enthralling about the seemingly random shapes or any repeating motives used. Only the opening song had a melodic layer that was obviously under cooked and second rate, though. As a whole, Bjork was exceptional in terms of showcasing the true worth of the music and making what was meant to be decoration simply decoration. In other words, while it wasn’t the best balance of musical quality, the balance of musical priorities was quite perfect. It was obvious that melody and harmony were subservient to the timbre and didn’t have the same injection of spirit, but I can’t find anything specific to complain about, mainly because I see no obvious or sensible improvement that could still keep this created sonic world in tact. This is a one of a kind work, and it does just enough to warrant high praise. This may sound odd, but this album is for listeners that aren’t intimidated by music. I feel like the main negative reactions this could cause from listeners would stem from them being afraid of sounds and musical organization that they don’t understand. Getting over our fears of what we don’t understand is not only important in music, but in life. Giving music like this a space in your life is important for your humanity. Or, you can continue to run away from your fears, and I’ll be a bit disappointed.
Final Score: 145/180