Utopia (Björk album)

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Utopia
Utopia Björk.jpg
Studio album by Björk
Released 24 November 2017 (2017-11-24)
Recorded 2016–17
Genre
Length 71:38
Label One Little Indian
Producer
Björk chronology
Vulnicura Live
(2015)
Utopia
(2017)
Singles from Utopia
  1. "The Gate"
    Released: 15 September 2017 (2017-09-15)
  2. "Blissing Me"
    Released: 15 November 2017 (2017-11-15)
  3. "Arisen My Senses"
    Released: 21 March 2018 (2018-03-21)

Utopia is the ninth[nb 1] studio album by Icelandic singer-musician Björk. It was primarily produced by Björk and Venezuelan electronic record producer Arca, and released on 24 November 2017 through One Little Indian Records.[3]

Background and release[edit]

"I kind of like the fact that it's a cliché, that word [...] it has a fascistic, 'I want the world to be like this!' feeling about it, because it's a proposal (of) how we can live with nature and technology in the most optimistic way possible."

— Björk on the album's title[4]

Björk began working on Utopia soon after releasing Vulnicura in 2015. Upon winning the award for International Female Solo Artist at the 2016 Brit Awards, Björk did not appear as she was busy recording her new album.[5] In an interview published in March 2016, Björk likened the writing to "paradise" as opposed to Vulnicura being "hell... like divorce."[6] Speaking to Fader in March 2017, filmmaker and collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang said that he had been involved with Björk on her new album, stating that "quite a bit of it" had already been written, and that the "new album's gonna be really future-facing, in a hopeful way that I think is needed right now."[7]

Utopia was announced via social media on 2 August 2017 with a handwritten note by Björk. The announcement coincided with Dazed's autumn 2017 cover issue with Björk which included the announcement of few song titles.[8][9] The lead single, "The Gate" was announced on 12 September for a digital release the following week but received a surprise midnight release on 15 September.[10] The same day of the single's release, Björk announced the album's title, Utopia, during an interview with Nowness, stating she had "a thousand name suggestions" and "couldn't think of anything better," but it was open to change.[11] The release date of November 24 and cover art were unveiled on 31 October. Jesse Kanda, Arca's frequent collaborator and director of Björk's "Mouth Mantra" music video[12] designed the cover, which incorporated a silicone mask designed by frequent collaborator and mask maker James Merry.[13]

On 15 November 2017, Utopia's second single, "Blissing Me", was released as a digital download only,[14][15] accompanied by a music video, directed by Tim Walker and Emma Dalzell, was released the following day.

The album was released on 24 November 2017, with those who purchased the album receiving cryptocurrency in the form of 100 audiocoins (with a value of about $0.19), through a partnership with British blockchain startup Blockpool.[16][17]

While promoting Utopia, Björk revealed that she plans working on a live version of the album beginning in the spring of 2018. "There were a lot of flute things I didn't completely explore," she said, "like more soloists and mysterious kind of flute playing," and added "We have some additional flute songs and some different kind of angles."[18]

Composition[edit]

With fourteen tracks in total, Utopia clocks in at 71 minutes and 38 seconds, making it the longest of Björk's studio albums to date. The first comprehensive media coverage on the album came from an article published by Dazed.[19] Björk stated that the album is an exploration of utopia, with its writing process coinciding with her own personal, political and environmental concerns. She made headlines by describing the record as her "Tinder album".[20][21] She later clarified her comment, saying that the album would cover a different emotional terrain than her last record which she constantly referred to as her heartbreak album.[22]

"I obviously saw a gigantic musician in him, and I felt that he had gone into my world with such elegance and dignity and interpreted it, helped me (with) what was there, that I wanted to meet on a more equal basis. Of course it is my album for sure... but just as a pure musician, we decided to enter this other world and this other island which is the Arca/Björk overlap."

— Björk on her collaborative process with Arca on Utopia[4]

The Dazed article revealed just how involved Arca, co-producer on Vulnicura, was on Utopia. Unlike their previous collaboration where Arca came on board after all the songs and string arrangements were written, the new album saw them collaborating from the start. Arca had encouraged her to pursue a direction she'd hinted at on obscure cuts like "Batabid", a "Pagan Poetry" B-side, and "Ambergris March" from Drawing Restraint 9. According to Björk, their collaboration was "a musical conversation that was cross-generational, cross-Atlantic, him encouraging me to go into this area that I sort of suggested years ago, but didn't necessarily go all the way,"[19]

Björk said that air was a conscious, stylistic choice for the album after frequently composing for strings arrangements in her previous work: "I started a 12 piece Icelandic flute section and spent a few months recording and rehearsing with them [...] We decided to have synths that have a lot of air sounds in them and flutes that sound synthy."[4] She said the melodies were composed while out walking in the Icelandic wilderness, and once she had completed the melodies, she wrote the flute arrangements, later superimposing melodies. The lyrics were the final element in the songwriting process.[23] The Dazed article went on to reveal that the tranquil sounds of bird calls bridge a number of the tracks together, a similar flourish to her 2007 album, Volta. These sounds came from original field recordings by Björk herself but were also sampled from David Toop's 1980 album, Hekura, which Björk considers as one of her favorite albums.[19]

The Dazed article revealed many song titles including lead single "The Gate".[24] "'The Gate' is essentially a love song," says Björk, "but I say "love" in a more transcendent way. Vulnicura was about a very personal loss, and I think this new album is about a love that's even greater. It's about rediscovering love – but in a spiritual way, for lack of a better word."[25] Two additional song titles were released by Dazed, "Losss" and "Features Creatures". "Losss" was co-produced by Texas-based producer Rabit, who stated that the song was his first outside production work, and that the song serves a reminder of "how force of will is the ultimate force." "Features Creatures" talks about seeing someone with the same accent as a lover.[19]

In an interview with Harpcolumn.com, harpist Katie Buckley revealed that the songs "Arisen My Senses" and "Blissing Me" were recorded over two years before the album's release, and she wasn't even sure those songs would appear on the final record. "The final harp part on “Loss” was recorded this past summer," she revealed, and it wasn't until "Blissing Me" was released as a single a week before the album's release date that she got to hear the finished song. "I was completely surprised and quite excited by how exposed the harp was! When you’re just recording with click track, you really just have no idea. I have done a lot of wonderful things here in Iceland, but this is one of the coolest!" She said that Björk composed all the harp parts and Buckley's work was predominately as performer but also editor, revealing that originally "Blissing Me" was written for a harp trio but she suggested that a harp quartet would better capture what Björk was trying to accomplish.[26]

In an interview published on The Creative Independent on 14 December 2017, Björk revealed that there were initially two different versions of the studio album, one without birdsong and with each song separated by silence as in a traditional studio album and the final version as released with birdsong and many of the tracks cross-fading into each other.[27]

Promotion[edit]

Singles[edit]

By the end of 2017, two singles had been released from the album, both prior to Utopia's 24 November release date. The first was "The Gate", released digitally and on limited edition single-sided black vinyl. The single version is slightly different from the final album mix, with the bird song that accompanies the flute and vocal intro absent. The vinyl version is different still, with an additional 54 second flute instrumental outro added at the end of the song.[28]

Utopia's second single, "Blissing Me", was released a week before the album released. A month later, on 13 December 2017, a two track "Blissing Me" remix EP was released featuring 2 new mixes, the first of which was a collaboration with Brooklyn singer Serpentwithfeet who contributes new lyrics and beats to the track. Björk had previously praised the singer in a September 2016 article with The Guardian.[29] The second remix was a "Harp Only" version of "Blissing Me" which has been described as "heavenly" by Consequence of Sound.[30] A limited edition turquoise vinyl version of the "Blissing Me" remixes was released in February 2018.[31]

The third single "Arisen My Senses" was released on 21 March 2018, with a remix EP featuring three remixes from Lanark artefax, Jlin and Kelly Lee Owens.[32] A vinyl release of the EP will be released on 25 May.[33]

Music videos[edit]

The first two music videos from Utopia accompanied the album's first two singles, "The Gate" and "Blissing Me". "The Gate" was directed by Björk's frequent collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang and debuted to critical acclaim, eventually being named the best music video of 2017 by Pitchfork.[34] Of the video, Huang said, "“The Gate” picks up where 2015’s Vulnicura left off. It is the first glimpse into Björk’s utopia. The doorway lies within the wound from Vulnicura, which now appears transformed into a prismatic portal channeled between the chests of two lovers. Not lovers in the quotidian romantic sense, but in a broader cosmological way... "The Gate" is a declaration of hope sung by a woman refracted and re-formed into a luminous whole". He went on to describe the experience as the "culmination of my five-year collaboration with Björk".[35]

"Blissing Me" was directed by Tim Walker and Emma Dalzell. Critics noted the video's simplicity when compared to the VR experiments of the Vulnicura videos and heavy reliance on CGI on "The Gate".[36] Fashion magazine Vogue praised this quality, declaring it "one of her most restrained moments in recent memory... despite her "Gucci platforms". In addition to her yellow Gucci shoes, Björk wears a ruffled, blue semi-sheer tulle jumpsuit by British designer Pam Hogg. James Merry, frequent Björk collaborator/mask maker, adorned her braids with flowers and other delicate ornaments.[37] Björk's makeup was the work of Berlin-based drag artist Hungry, who also collaborated in the album's cover art.[38]

A third music video, "Utopia", was released on 8 December 2017.[39] It was directed by Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones and features Björk "in yet another one of her fantastical worlds, this one populated by flutes and blue birds and soft pink viscera."[40] In comparing the video for "Utopia" against the album's previous two videos, Hanna Flemming of Paste Magazine said, "Björk finally gives us what is most nearly the living room or gathering valley of this (utopian) realm, fully-fledged, realized and picturesque."[41]

The fourth music video from Utopia was of the album's opening track, "Arisen My Senses". It depicts Björk's rebirth with "the singer emerging from a womb, before entering a fantasy world as a fiery, feathered, winged creature" and has been described as "artfully disturbing".[42] The video was made in close collaboration between Björk, director Jesse Kanda, with whom the Icelandic singer had collaborated with on the video for Vulnicura's 2015 music video for "Mouth Mantra", and Arca, Utopia's co-producer. The video was presented by WeTransfer and debuted on their site on 18 December 2017.[43] It was described as "her hottest (music video) to date" by Paste Magazine[44] but Arca's appearance in the video was criticised by her fanbase. Both Björk and Arca addressed the controversy, with Arca writing on Instagram, "so many comments from ppl (sic) saying i should stay away from björk, ruined the arisen video by appearing or whatever .. when i’ve clicked thru (sic) to ur (sic) profiles i’ve only found faces that look sweet, soft body language and tender eyed selfies! to you: i send a soft kiss back". Björk replied to Arca’s message later, comparing Arca's appearance in the video to the late British musician Mark Bell's appearance in her 2008 video for “Declare Independence”, both of whom co-wrote the respective songs: "I am surprised why some of my fans have a difficulty with this," and asked fans "be open minded to the complexities of musical union (sic) between generations and different sexual orientations. Making this video with Jesse Kanda was a precious signage for us to recognize collaborations across all those."[45][46]

Tour[edit]

On 30 October 2017, Björk was announced as one of the headliners for the All Points East music festival in London.[47] She is scheduled to perform on 27 May 2018, her first confirmed live gig of the Utopia Tour. On 2 November, another live date was announced, this time at the Aarhus in Denmark as part of the Northside Festival, to be held on 7 June 2018. Björk first performed at Aarhus on 9 September 1993, the third night of her first concert tour as a solo artist.[48] The Utopia Tour began, however, with 2 special dress rehearsals in Reykjavík, Iceland on 9 and 12 April 2018,[49] which opened to positive reviews from the Icelandic press.[50]

Promotional appearances[edit]

Björk appeared on the BBC television series Later... with Jools Holland on 22 May 2018 after a break of 6 years from performing on TV. Her last television appearance was during the second year of the Biophilia Tour in 2012 when she appeared on The Colbert Report[51] and sang "Cosmogony", the second single from Biophilia which was released 8 months prior to the show's taping. Björk last appeared on Later on 22 November 2011 where she performed a set of 3 songs from the then just released Biophilia.[52] An extended hour-long broadcast of the show on 26 May featured two additional songs, "The Gate"[53] and "Blissing Me".[54]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic82/100[55]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[56]
The A.V. ClubA[2]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[57]
Consequence of SoundB+[58]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[59]
The Guardian4/5 stars[60]
NME4/5 stars[61]
Pitchfork8.4/10[62]
PopMatters8/10 stars[63]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[64]

Utopia received acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 82 based on 35 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[55]

Entertainment Weekly called the album "almost completely a sensory experience".[59] NME awarded the album 4 out of 5 stars, complimenting the album's "lushness", with "every track at once hopeful but haunting".[61] The Guardian also gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, describing Utopia as "lush and airy", as opposed to Vulnicura.[60] Stereogum gave the album a positive review and said that "Björk ascends to a paradise of her own design".[65] Consequence of Sound wrote that Björk "returns with a thriving sound world rich in nuance and detail".[58] The Boston Globe found the album "both resolutely avant-garde and absolutely beautiful" and gave it a score of 9 out of 10.[1] The A.V. Club called the album "wondrous and intense" in their review, giving it an "A" score.[2] The Wall Street Journal labelled the album as "exquisite".[66] Pitchfork found the album to be "deeply personal, with unerring elegance and passion".[62] Spin thought that the album is "a totally singular record in her discography, and ranks among her finest work".[67] Rolling Stone wrote that it "radiates playfulness and pleasure".[64]

A review by The Telegraph was less positive, the album was rated three out of five stars, and was dubbed as "dazzling" and "a work of brilliance on some level", but "befuddling and irritating".[68]

Accolades[edit]

Publication Accolade Rank Ref.
AllMusic Best of 2017 N/A
Baeble Music Top 30 Albums of 2017
11
Dazed The 20 Best Albums of 2017
7
Drowned in Sound Favourite Albums of 2017
15
Crack Magazine Albums of the Year 2017
24
Mixmag Top 50 Albums of 2017
12
The Wild Honey Pie Top 30 Albums of 2017
4
Under the Radar Top 100 Albums of 2017
31
The Quietus Albums of the Year 2017
31
Diffuser Top 25 Albums of 2017
14
God Is In The TV Top 50 Albums of 2017
20
NOW Magazine The 10 Best Albums of 2017
6
The A.V. Club 20 Best Albums of 2017
15
Spin 50 Best Albums of 2017
29
The New Yorker Amanda Petrusich's Ten Best Albums of 2017 N/A
Earbuddy 100 Best Albums of 2017
30
Tiny Mix Tapes Favorite 50 Music Releases of 2017
21
Gigwise 51 Best Albums of 2017
27
The New York Times Jon Pareles' Best Albums of 2017
5
Pitchfork The 50 Best Albums of 2017
20
The 405 Top 20 Albums of 2017
16
Rough Trade Best Albums of the Year 2017
3
Slant Magazine The 25 Best Albums of 2017
11
Double J The 50 Best Albums of 2017
24
Stereogum The 50 Best Albums of 2017
28
Albumism 50 Best Albums of 2017
8
The Vinyl Factory The 50 Best Albums of 2017
50
Slate Best Albums of 2017 N/A
Les Inrockuptibles 100 Best Albums of 2017
48
Radio X The 30 Best New Albums of 2017 N/A
The Genius Community 50 Best Albums of 2017
28
FACT 50 Best Albums of 2017
40
Junkee 10 Best Albums of 2017
7
BrooklynVegan Top 50 Albums of 2017
42
Vinyl Me, Please The 30 Best Albums of 2017
21

Chart performance[edit]

Utopia peaked at number 75 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US and number 25 in the UK, making it Björk's lowest-charting studio album (not inclusive of Selmasongs) in both countries.[citation needed] It debuted at number 48 on Japan's Oricon Weekly Albums chart with 1,593 copies sold in its first week of release in Japan.[104]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks except "Features Creatures" and "Paradisia" credit Arca as a featured artist;[3] all lyrics written by Björk.

No.TitleMusicProducer(s)Length
1."Arisen My Senses"
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:59
2."Blissing Me"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
5:05
3."The Gate"
  • Björk
  • Arca
  • Arca
  • Björk
6:33
4."Utopia"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:42
5."Body Memory"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
9:46
6."Features Creatures"
  • Björk
  • Sarah Hopkins
Björk4:49
7."Courtship"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:44
8."Losss"Björk
  • Björk
  • Rabit
  • Arca
6:51
9."Sue Me"
  • Björk
  • Arca
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:57
10."Tabula Rasa"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:42
11."Claimstaker"
  • Björk
  • Arca
  • Arca
  • Björk
3:18
12."Paradisia"BjörkBjörk1:44
13."Saint"Björk
  • Björk
  • Arca
4:41
14."Future Forever"
  • Björk
  • Arca
  • Arca
  • Björk
4:47
Total length:71:38

Vinyl edition[105]

Notes

  • The segue between "Blissing Me" and "The Gate" contains a sample from "Guanare/Barinas" by Jean C. Roché.[106]

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Utopia.[107]

  • Björk – vocals, digital flute, flute arrangements, vocal arrangements, choir arrangements, cello arrangements
  • Arca – electronics, synth melodies, beats

Flute players

  • Melkorka Ólafsdóttir – solo
  • Áshildur Haraldsdóttir – solo
  • Berglind María Tómasdóttir – solo
  • Steinunn Vala Pálsdóttir
  • Björg Brjánsdóttir
  • Þuríður Jónsdóttir
  • Pamela De Sensi
  • Sigríður Hjördís Indriðadóttir
  • Emilía Rós Sigfúsdóttir
  • Dagný Marinósdóttir
  • Sólveig Magnúsdóttir
  • Berglind Stefánsdóttir
  • Hafdís Vigfúsdóttir

Additional musicians

  • Katie Buckley – harp
  • Hamrahlíðarkórinn – choir
  • Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir – choir conduction
  • Robin Carolan – the fifth ear
  • Júlia Mogensen – cello
  • Hávarður Tryggvason – contra bass

Technical personnel

  • Heba Kadry – mixing (tracks 2, 5–8, 11)
  • Marta Salogni – mixing (tracks 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 12-14), vocal mixing (tracks 2, 8)
  • Bergur Þórisson – engineering, flute recording engineering, choir recording engineering, harp recording engineering
  • Bart Migal – engineering
  • Chris Elms – engineering, harp recording engineering
  • Mandy Parnell – mastering

Artwork

  • Björk – creative direction, cover character
  • Jesse Kanda – creative direction, cover art, photography
  • James Merry – creative direction, facepiece
  • Raphael Salley – hair
  • Hungry – make-up
  • Juliette Larthe – production
  • Ken Kohl – avian fetus photography
  • M/M Paris – creative direction, typography, digital illumination

Charts[edit]

Chart (2017) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[108] 22
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[109] 23
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[110] 18
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[111] 34
Czech Albums (ČNS IFPI)[112] 40
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[113] 29
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[114] 40
French Albums (SNEP)[115] 31
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[116] 26
Irish Albums (IRMA)[117] 31
Italian Albums (FIMI)[118] 34
Japanese Albums (Oricon)[119] 48
Japanese International Albums (Oricon)[120] 13
New Zealand Heatseeker Albums (RMNZ)[121] 3
Portuguese Albums (AFP)[122] 10
Scottish Albums (OCC)[123] 27
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[124] 24
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[125] 28
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[126] 12
UK Albums (OCC)[127] 25
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[128] 10
US Billboard 200[129] 75
US Independent Albums (Billboard)[130] 4
US Top Alternative Albums (Billboard)[131] 3
US Top Tastemaker Albums (Billboard)[132] 2

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Utopia is officially considered to be Björk's ninth album. However, this is the tenth solo album if her self-titled 1977 album is included, or her eleventh album if her 1990 jazz album Gling-Gló with tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar is also included.

References[edit]

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  3. ^ a b "Utopia by Björk on iTunes". iTunes. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c "Sphères, prismes et Utopia pour le nouvel album". Bjork.fr. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 
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