|Studio album by Björk|
|Released||27 August 2001|
|Recorded||San Pedro de Alcántara, Spain; Reykjavík, Iceland; New York City, United States[nb 1]|
|Genre||Electronica, experimental, trip hop, glitch pop, psychedelic, art rock, folktronica|
|Label||One Little Indian|
|Producer||Björk, Thomas Knak, Martin Gretschmann, Marius de Vries|
|Singles from Vespertine|
Vespertine is the fifth studio album by Icelandic musician Björk, released on 27 August 2001, on One Little Indian Records. It was recorded at locations in Spain, Iceland and the United States in 2000; production began during the filming of Dancer in the Dark, which was characterized by conflict between the singer and director Lars von Trier. Björk, a self-titled coffee table book containing photographs of the singer throughout her career, was released simultaneously with the album. The album peaked at number 19 on the Billboard 200 in the US and at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart. Three singles were released from Vespertine: "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry" and "Cocoon". The record was certified Gold in Canada, France and the UK.
Björk wanted to make an album with an intimate, winter, domestic sound. With the rising popularity of Napster and music downloads, she decided to use instruments whose sound would not be compromised when downloaded and played in a computer: these include the harp —played by Zeena Parkins—, celesta, clavichord and music boxes, the latter were custom made; strings are also heavily featured. In Vespertine Björk also added "microbeats" made from the sampling of shuffling cards and ice being cracked, among other household sounds with the help of the duo Matmos. Lyrically, it revolves around sex and love —sometimes explicitly—, inspired by the singer's new relationship with Matthew Barney. Other lyrical sources include a poem by E. E. Cummings, the play Crave and collaborator Harmony Korine. Vespertine 's sound reflected Björk's newly found interest in the music of artists such as Thomas Knak, who was also enlisted as a producer.
Vespertine was widely acclaimed by critics. Praise centred on its erotic, intimate mood and sonic experimentation. The record has been featured in several publications' lists of the best albums of 2001 and the best albums of the decade, and was often considered Björk's best album to date. In 2001, the singer enlisted Zeena Parkins, Matmos and an Inuit choir to embark in the Vespertine World Tour.
Background and development
Björk had released her previous studio album, Homogenic, in 1997. The album was highly acclaimed on its initial release and stylistically differed from her previous two releases, described by her as "very emotionally confrontational and [...] very dramatic", and "everything on 11..f. a lot of steroids in the air." In 2000, she acted in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, and composed its soundtrack, Selmasongs. The filming process was conflictive; Von Trier believes the problem was they both were used to being the "dictator" over their products and Björk's inability to separate herself from her character. Björk wrote "he has to destroy [his female leads] during the filming" and declared that she would never make another movie. However, the film was awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and she received the Best Actress award. On 25 March 2001, Björk attended the 73rd Academy Awards —as she was nominated for Best Original Song— wearing a swan dress designed by Marjan Pejoski that caused media frenzy and was widely criticized.
While she worked on the film, she also began producing her next album, writing new music and teaming with new collaborators; she has said "Selmasongs was the day job and Vespertine was the hobby" Her new relationship with artist Matthew Barney and the tension while filming Dancer in the Dark have been referred to as the two major forces that shaped what would become Vespertine. As the process of filming demanded her to be extroverted, the new music she was creating became hushed and tranquil as a way to escape. Björk commissioned Valgeir Sigurðsson to relocate some of his studio equipment from Iceland to Denmark, where Dancer in the Dark was being filmed. While living in Copenhagen she also contacted the electronic musician Thomas Knak (aka Opiate), after having enjoyed his 1999 album Objects for an Ideal Home. Björk's musical taste shifted from the "clang and clatter" and "thumping techno that characterized Homogenic, as she "was bored with big beats".
Björk then set to make a record with a domestic mood featuring "everyday moods and everyday noises translating into melodies and beats," hence its working title Domestika. As she wanted to write her own songs in music boxes, Björk contacted a music box company, requesting see-through acrylic glass boxes because she wanted it to sound "as hard as possible, like it was frozen." She also began to use her laptop to write music, and decided to use instruments whose sound wouldn't be compromised when downloaded from sites such as Napster. She explained:
"I use micro-beats, a lot of whispery vocals, which I think sound amazing when they're downloaded because of the secrecy of the medium. The only acoustic instruments I would use would be those that sound good after they've been downloaded, so the harp, the music box, celeste and clavichord. They're plucky sounds. [...] And the strings [...] ended up being more panoramic textures in the background. It’s all about being in a little house, on your own. [...] The strings would be like white mountains outside."
Her relationship with Barney influenced her lyrics, which now were more intimate, detailed and revealing as opposed to her past works. A particular example is the heart of the album, "Cocoon", which is sexually explicit. The eventual title change of the record reveals its changing nature: writer and critic Mark Pytlik writes "where [Domestika] signified a focus of extracting magic from the platitudes of everyday life, [Vespertine] [...] suggested a creation of magic through much more powerful forces. In fine style, Björk had set out to write an album about making sandwiches.[nb 2] She'd ended up with an album about making love."
"Heirloom" was an existing instrumental track titled "Crabcraft" by electronic musician Console, off his 1998 album Rocket in the Pocket. Björk contacted Console in early 2000 and they met in London, she then added her vocals on top. "Undo" was written in a two-week session with Knak that January in Reykjavik, Björk recorded her vocals on top of Knak's minimalist rhythmic backbone and months later she had added a full choir and string section. "Cocoon", also produced by Knak, was one of the last songs to be written for the album; its melody came to Björk in a sudden rush and she contacted him. Knak took it as a chance to make a more minimal track, similar to his own releases. His original treatment of "Cocoon", made with an Ensoniq ASR-10, appeared relatively intact in the final version. Björk also worked with Bogdan Raczynski on the song "Who Is It", but the track did not follow the direction of the record and was subsequently included in the album Medúlla.
In Homogenic Björk usually used one loud beat, but in Vespertine she wanted to make a "microcosmos of thirty or forty beats interacting." She then started to record noises around her house to make beats out of them. Once the songs were almost finished, Björk contacted the duo Matmos, who she considered "virtuosos" in the field, and sent them various songs to work with. They added beats made from the noise of crushing ice and shuffling cards, among others. In her documentary Minuscule, Björk explained that "the key to what we were looking for was taking something very very very very tiny and magnifying it up to big. And it sorta gave you a sensation that you've been told a secret, the same way as if you see a picture of a cell in the body magnified very big, you get this feeling that you are being trusted for some insight information. And I guess this whole album is very much like this."
Björk has stated she wanted the album to sound like "modern chamber music." She also considers Vespertine to be the opposite of her previous studio album Homogenic, the former being an introvert, quiet, winter record; and the latter a loud, dramatic, summer record. Writer and critic Mark Pytlik writes: "Her appetite for thumping techno had been, temporarily at least, subsumed by a desire for stark melodies and minimalist production." According to Joseph Hale of Tiny Mix Tapes, Vespertine's music "finally made good on its dubious “trip-hop” label," and described it as a combination of "psychedelic techno, chamber music, and chorale together into modal constructions that swelled and receded like emotions (or psylocibin)." The album's psychedelic nature was also noted by The Dallas Morning News. David Fricke of Rolling Stone wrote "Vespertine is the closest any pop-vocal album has come to the luxuriant Zen of the new minimalist techno." Björk has also described the album as "more electronic folk music," and a NME review for the single "Hidden Place", released before the album, indeed described her new sound as progressive folk. Vespertine 's music has also been categorised as glitch pop.
The general lyrical themes of the album are sex and love. Björk explores sex very openly and thoroughly on Vespertine, abstaining largely from the metaphors often employed by popular music. She makes use of the quiet and close sound of the album to convey the idea of intimacy, and lyrically explores the emotional and cerebral sides of sex rather than simply the sensation.[original research?]
Written and produced by Björk, "Hidden Place" features the "microbeats"—work of Matmos—, intimate lyrics and meshing of organic and synthetic textures that characterize the album.
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The lyrics to "An Echo, a Stain" are based on Sarah Kane's play Crave. Björk adapted the lyrics of "Sun in My Mouth" from the poem "I Will Wade Out" by E. E. Cummings. The word "sea-girls" is changed to "seagulls", and the last few lines of the poem are omitted. The lyrics of "Harm of Will" were written by Harmony Korine and are allegedly about Will Oldham.
The initial title for the album was Domestika. A song titled "Domestica" (originally titled "Lost Keys") was included as a B-side on the "Pagan Poetry" single. Björk has stated several reasons why the album was called "Vespertine" instead of "Domestika". She felt that calling the album "Domestika" would have been "too much", because the songs on the album were already "domestic" enough, so she turned to other aspects of the album in order to name it. One of these is the prayer aspect of the album: "vespers" are evening prayers. The other reason is that the word "vespertine" relates to night time, for example things that come out at night. Björk felt that this theme was also present on the album. In the song "It's Not Up To You", she sings "The evening I've always longed for, it could still happen". Björk said in an interview with NME that "It sounds like a winter record," and that "If you wake up in the middle of the night and you go in the garden, everything's going on out there that you wouldn't know about. That's the mood I'm trying to get. Snow owls represent that pretty well."
On 22 August 2008, Björk wrote an open letter on her official website correcting a long-standing mistake—that Valgeir Sigurðsson has over the years been credited with writing the instrumentals for the album. She explained that, in fact, he had been only an engineer and programmer on some of the tracks on the album and speculated that the reason for the mistake was either due to sexism in the music industry, ignorance between the roles of engineers and programmers, or because neither she nor Sigurðsson had ever bothered to correct it.
Once the album was finished, Björk wrote a manifesto describing a very introvert fictional character, "the character who did Vespertine," and sent it to M/M Paris, Nick Knight and Eiko Ishioka, who directed the music video for "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry" and "Cocoon" respectively. It was the directorial debut of the three of them. She said:
"Vespertine is an album made by a character who's very introvert. And it's about the universe inside every person. This time around, I wanted to make sure that the scenery of the songs is not like a mountain or a city or outside, it's inside, so it's very internal. So I guess all three videos are very internal. [...] Sort of how you communicate with the world in a very intimate, personal way."
The music video for "Hidden Place" was directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and co-directed by M/M (Paris). It was shot in four days in February 2001 in London. It was originally planned for a song from Selmasongs, but Björk felt the project was more appropriate for Vespertine. The video consists of close-up shots panning around Björk's face, as fluids flow in and out of her facial orifices. M/M (Paris) explained the concept behind the video: "We always wanted to get as close to her as we could, as we all felt she had never been portrayed as the "real" and beautiful woman she is. This is somehow taboo, to observe a pop star with no makeup from a distance of half an inch. Then the idea of the liquid works as a visualization of all possible emotions pulsating and circulating in her very busy brain. The loop idea was a main point for us as well, trying to extend the usual time frame of pop video super-fast editing, to make it hypnotising, mesmerising and irritating, like an eternally burning fireplace."
Nick Knight, who had previously shot the cover art for Homogenic, directed the music video for "Pagan Poetry". It is about a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover, as she sews a wedding dress into her skin. As she had asked him to make a video about her love life, Knight gave Björk a Sony Mini DV camera and asked her to shoot her own private scenes. Shots of skin being peirced were also recorded with a Sony Mini DV camera; the people being peirced were five women who "were into subculture and piercings" and Björk herself, who only pierced her ear. This first two-thirds of the video contains a great deal of post-production by Peter Marin, who gave the image its abstract watercolor-like effect. The shots of Björk with her Alexander McQueen topless wedding dress were filmed in super 35 format. The main idea behind the music video was "to do something with the moving image that was a mirror of what was happening musically." Although now recognised as one of Björk's finest videos, it was highly controversial and banned from MTV in 2001. It eventually aired on MTV2's countdown of the ’20 Most Controversial Music Videos.’
The music video for "Cocoon" was directed by Eiko Ishioka and was shot in April 2001 in New York City. One of Björk's most avant-garde music videos, it "plays with minimalist white for both costume and bleached eyebrows, treating Björk as a geisha whose makeup extends over her entire nude body." Red threads emerge from her nipples and circulate between her breasts and nose, finally enveloping her in a cocoon. Björk actually wore a very close-fitting body suit. Although not as controversial as the "Pagan Poetry" music video, it was polemic and banned from prime-time MTV. The three music videos were included in the DVDs Volumen Plus (2002) and Greatest Hits - Volumen 1993–2003 (2002).
The album's ethereal artwork mirrors its "delicacy and introverted romance". The cover art, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin in Los Angeles, California, is a black and white photograph of Björk lying down on the patterned ground next to a swimming pool, covering her eyes from the sun and wearing her Marjan Pejoski swan dress that caused a stir at the 73rd Academy Awards. The duo M/M (Paris), known for applying and integrating their work on photographs (so called dessin dans l’image, or "drawings in the picture"), illustrated the cover, featuring a swan and the album's title with feathers. Björk thought swans embodied Vespertine 's music, describing them as "a white, sort of winter bird" and "very romantic." Vespertine came with a booklet of M/M (Paris) artwork.
Michael Hubbard of musicOMH commented positively on it, writing "the spine of the CD is entirely white, while the rest of the sleeve features innovative photography and artwork, preparing the listener before they even hear the album for something very special." Jason Killingsworth of Paste wrote: "When I see the swan, my eye drifts past its beak to those pillowy white feathers, recalling the plushness and warmth of a down comforter. Feathers so white they evoke the purity of freshly fallen snow blanketing the ground outside while you sip a coffee by the fire, both hands curled around the mug’s warm ceramic finish."
Early versions of the album were leaked onto the internet with some differences to the final release. Tracks were in a different order, the song "It's in Our Hands" was originally included (replaced by the instrumental "Frosti" on the final version), the song "It's Not Up to You" was not included, and some tracks appeared under different titles, including "Pagan Poetry" ("Blueprint"), "Cocoon" ("Mouth") and "Heirloom" ("Crabcraft" or "New"). Also, a remix of "An Echo, a Stain" was included.: Vespertine was released in August, 2001 on double LP record, CD and Cassette. The album went at number 1 in the US Billboard Top Electronic Albums, as well as going at number 19 in the Billboard 200 and number 8 in the UK Albums Chart. At the time, Vespertine was Björk's quickest selling album ever, having sold two million copies by the end of 2001 and it went silver in the UK and gold in France and Canada.
Björk embarked on a tour of theatres and opera houses in Europe and North America in support of the album, accompanied by the musicians Matmos and Zeena Parkins and an Inuit choir, whom she had held auditions for on a trip to Greenland prior to the tour. At the time, Vespertine was Björk's quickest selling album ever, having sold two million copies by the end of 2001.
Vespertine spawned three singles: "Hidden Place," "Pagan Poetry," and "Cocoon." MTV2 played the album's first video, "Hidden Place," which was subsequently released as a DVD single. However, the next video, for "Pagan Poetry," brought Björk to an even higher level of controversy with the channel. As a result, the clip was initially rarely shown by MTV, and certain parts (for example, Björk's breasts) were censored during the rare occasions when it was played. In 2002, the clip finally enjoyed unedited American airing as part of a late night special on MTV2 titled, "Most Controversial Music Videos." "It's Not Up to You" may have been meant to be the fourth single—a sticker on the CD case proclaims "features ‹Hidden Place› and ‹It's Not Up to You›"—but never made it to release, presumably because of the birth of Björk's daughter Isadora.
2002 saw the appearance of the CD box set Family Tree containing a retrospective of Björk's career, comprising many previously unreleased versions of her compositions, including her work with the Brodsky Quartet. Also released alongside Family Tree was the album Greatest Hits, a retrospective of the previous 10 years of her solo career as deemed by the public. The songs on the album were chosen by Björk's fans through a poll on her website. A DVD edition of the CD was also released. It contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point. The new single from the set, "It's In Our Hands," charted in the UK at number 37. The video, directed by Spike Jonze, features a heavily pregnant Björk.
|Alternative Press||8/10 |
|The A.V. Club||favourable|
|Entertainment Weekly||B+ |
|Robert Christgau||A− |
|The New Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Tiny Mix Tapes|||
Vespertine was greeted with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 88, based on 28 reviews. Heather Phares from AllMusic called it "an album singing the praises of peace and quiet", praising it for proving that "intimacy can be just as compelling as louder emotions." The album was given four and half out of five stars in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, where it is called "a banquet in the hall of Björk's personal erotics," and it is stated that "it's not the stuff of radio hits, but the music is spectacular." Anthony Carew from About.com gave the album the highest rating and said it was "quite possibly the best album of the '00s." American music journalist Robert Christgau enjoyed the album's central theme of sex and wrote "when she gets all soprano on your ass you could accuse her of spirituality." The A.V. Club 's Keith Phipps found it to be "an album both timeless and of the moment, an avant-garde electronic-pop exploration of classic themes." David Fricke of Rolling Stone felt that Vespertine was "the sound and sentiment of a woman exulting in the power and possibility of her gift, one who has finally figured out how to grow up without growing old."
A more lukewarm review came from Pitchfork Media's Ryan Schreiber, who felt that "while undeniably beautiful, Vespertine fails to give electronic music the forward push it received on Björk's preceding albums." David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said "her lyrics occasionally dive into the deep end" and "her voice is at times stiff", although he also wrote "when it all comes together, [...] Björk and her electronica collaborators create moving interplanetary chorals." Almost Cool wrote "if there's one question to be raised with the album, it's that it's all simply so lush and nice that on some levels it fails to excite."
Various reviews named Vespertine Björk's best album to date, including The A.V. Club, Rolling Stone, About.com and PopMatters. By the end of 2000 the album was appearing frequently in critics' top ten lists. In 2002, Vespertine received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Album and a Shortlist Music Prize nomination. In addition, the album was nominated for Album of the Year at the Icelandic Music Awards. In 2013, the album was ranked number 403 on NME 's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is also considered one of the greatest albums of all time by Paul Morley in his book Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, and by Fnac and Blow Up. Whatsmore, Vespertine was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and is considered one of the best albums of the decade by many publications.
|2.||"Cocoon"||Björk, Thomas Knak||4:28|
|3.||"It's Not Up to You"||Björk||5:08|
|8.||"An Echo, a Stain"||Björk, Guy Sigsworth||4:04|
|9.||"Sun in My Mouth"||Björk, E.E. Cummings, Sigsworth||2:40|
|11.||"Harm of Will"||Björk, Sigsworth, Harmony Korine||4:36|
|Japanese bonus track|
|13.||"Generous Palmstroke"||Björk, Zeena Parkins||4:24|
- Sample credits
- "Hidden Place" samples "Transfigured Night, Op.4" by Arnold Schoenberg.
- "Undo" samples "1% In 2/3 Speed", in "While You Were Sleeping" by Opiate
- "Unison" samples "Aero Deck" by Oval.
- Björk – arranger, producer, programming, beat programming, basslines, strings arrangements, choir arrangements, harp arrangements, music box arrangements, vocal editing, sounds recording, field recording
- Valgeir Sigurðsson – programming, beat programming, Pro Tools, engineer
- Martin Gretschmann aka Console – producer, programming
- Jake Davies – programming, Pro Tools, engineer
- Matthew Herbert – programming
- Leigh Jamieson – Pro Tools
- Thomas Knak – production, programming
- Jan "Stan" Kybert – Pro Tools
- Matmos – programming, beat programming
- Vince Mendoza – string arrangements, choir arrangements, orchestration
- Zeena Parkins – harp, harp arrangements
- Jack Perron – adaptation to music box
- Guy Sigsworth – programming, beat programming, celeste, celeste arrangements, clavichord, clavichord arrangements, choir arrangements
- Mark "Spike" Stent – mixing
- Damian Taylor – programming, beat programming, Pro Tools
- Caryl Thomas – harp
- Marius de Vries – producer, programming, beat programming
- Additional musicians
- Patrick Gowers – Composer of Vocal and Organ Arrangements on Unison
- St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, conducted by John Scott – Choir on Unison
- M/M Paris – art direction, design and drawing
- Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin – photography
Charts and certifications