When I heard that Björk was teaming up with Matmos for her newest album, I was overjoyed. Like the much more adventurous version of Madonna, Björk has always managed to pick some of the best people to work with on her releases, and coming off their A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure release earlier this year, Matmos showed they were at the top of their form in both creativity and skill level. Sadly, their contribution to the actual release is small, but that's nothing against them or the release itself. As a Björk release, this is probably the most lush one yet. String octets rise up to euphoria, angelic choruses swell, harps are plucked, and thick, rich electronic embellishments fill out every nook and cranny behind her always emotive voice.
The album starts out with "Hidden Place," and it manages to encorporate nearly all of the above elements. After starting out rather quietly with a gurgling rhythm, a female chorus and strings rise up and completely fill out the chorus. Almost on the opposite end of the spectrum (for this release anyway) is the second track entitled "Cocoon." Pulsing along with some beats that wouldn't sound out-of-place on the Clicks And Cuts release, warm keyboards fill in the rest of the empty space behind her voice.
Coming about midway through the album, the instrumental (for music box) "Frosti" creates a simple, but lovely sonic landscape for her home country of Iceland before the track leads directly into the excellent "Aurora" (which again adds some nice harp sounds). "An Echo, A Stain" again takes a more subtle approach to things, laying down an almost haunting backing of ghostly keyboards and squiggled beats.
If one track stands out as being slightly different than the others on the release, that prize would definitely go to "Heirloom." Although it's not drastically different, the retro-drum machine sounding beat (programmed by Martin Gretschmann of Console) doesn't quite fit in alongside the rest of the clicks and clacks of the disc. The disc closes out with the longest, and perhaps most interesting track on the disc. Juxtaposing a harp and choir arrangements against some playful beats, it's one of the only tracks on the disc that captures the fun side of the artist. I can understand the seriousness most of the time, but after all, this is a woman who's wearing a dress that looks like a swan on the cover of the CD (and to the Oscars last year).
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. There are no crazy outbursts such as on her last albums like Homogenic or even the Dancer In The Dark Soundtrack. Vespertine is simply content to sweep along in a beautiful, lush way and wrap you up in its gauzy warmth. Lyrically, she explores some of the same almost dreamlike places of past, as well as using words from an E.E. Cummings poem on one track and lyrics written by Harmony Korine (director of Gummo) on another. Besides one or two tracks, there really isn't anything on the disc that captures the more playful side of the artist, but that's not a huge complaint when everything else sounds very nice. There's nothing that's completely groundbreaking, but it's another solid release from her.