Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vespertine (2001)

Interesting to learn that "vespertine" refers to events related to or occurring in the evening of the day, an English word that came to the language in medieval times as part of the great Anglo-Saxon pillaging of Latin. I think it's not a common word—I wasn’t even sure I wouldn't find out it was just some made-up word when I went to the dictionary—but it's entirely appropriate to Bjork's music here, a product of fading and unusual light, ethereal and often overwhelmingly beautiful and passing quickly with the day. There she is on the cover, squinting against it. Still a little early where she is, looks like. I'll just say, by way of qualification, that I have never particularly been a fan. Nothing against her—the Sugarcubes were sweet enough as late new wave, that big band album had a few kicks, and Lars von Trier had an idea what to do with her, if you're partial to von Trier, which I am generally. Maybe there's more by her that I would like. But when this one landed in my lap there was never a question; somehow it stuck, became a daily habit that lasted several weeks. I haven't been back to it since then, some nine years now, and to my usual chagrin found that it took a few passes to get back into it again. But I'm there now, finding a song like "It's Not Up to You" almost perfectly gorgeous, operating close to the ground before it swells up to its greatest moments and back again. Or the deceptively plodding menace and desperation of "Pagan Poetry." Or the unyielding pathos of "Hidden Place." There are odd, vaguely disturbing sounds scattered throughout here, which I read are things like cards being shuffled and icicles shattering. It's a nice strategy to keep the tension alive and crackling, but I'm going to judge these things on what the melodies are able to accomplish, and here they are practically everything—certainly the best of everything. Bjork often sounds here like someone struggling for breath in a strong wind, or against currents of water, but her big powerful voice is capable of such stunts and illusions, and I understand it's part of her charm. What I like here is how slapped together and aimless it will sound, from track to track, but buried inside very nearly each is some brilliant moment when the sun shines piercing and glorious and the sky is orange and red and yellow. Like a good dusk, this takes its time getting to its destination, the darkness, and puts on a nice show along the way.

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