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Bjork - Vespertine Print E-mail
Monday, 12 November 2001


format: DVD-Audio
label: Elektra
release year: 2002
performance: 8
sound 8
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

ImageIn a musical world where executives place a premium on artists who sound just like other hit artists, Iceland’s Bjork sounds like no one else you have ever heard. Bjork broke on to the pop music scene in the late 1980s as the frontwoman for the pop act The Sugarcubes, who had a few moderately successful tunes, especially on college radio, including the song “hit.” In the early 1990’s Bjork made her break from The Sugarcubes with her album Debut, where she captured more widespread MTV success, got significant U.S. radio airplay and commanded attention with her stunning, almost Eskimo-like looks and out-there vocals. Bjork was so different than the pop divas of the time that if you paid any attention to the music scene at all, you had to notice and admire her.

Her solo career has taken a curious path. Her second record, Post, still had popular appeal with tunes like “It’s Oh So Quiet,” but she was getting more quirky. She ultimately married electronic DJ and producer Goldie, which has had a profound impact on her sound, taking her in a more Euro-electronic direction. This brings us to Vespertine, which is an atmospheric electronic record featuring highly personal and esoteric lyrics, complicated but never awkward beats and a wonderful collection of sounds ranging from subtle samples to orchestral strings.

The Bjork Vespertine DVD-Audio disc is highlighted by a 5.1 surround mix, a default Dolby Digital mix for those wanting to hear the disc played back on a DVD-Video (not a DVD-Audio) player and a stereo fold-down mix. There is an image of what looks to be a black and white rubber ducky that stays onscreen throughout the record. It is kind of annoying and could potentially burn its highly contrasted outlines onto certain video monitors if it were to be left on for prolonged periods of time. I simply avoid using my projector for navigating the menu of the Bjork DVD-Audio title in place of navigating the menu on the LCD monitor on my Mark Levinson No. 40 preamp. Older DVD-Audio players (and some early DVD-Audio discs) will give you trouble when navigating them without the use of a video monitor, but the Bjork will play in MLP surround on my Marantz and Meridian DVD-Audio players with two hits of the play button.

Musically, Bjork’s Vespertine is a modern-day voyage through a wonderful world of sounds, eclectic lyrics and poetry. As a CD, I simply didn’t understand the album when it was first released and shelved in place of music that was more easily digested. As a DVD-Audio title this highly complex album takes on new life and commends more attention. The surround mix is the most subtle I have ever heard. There are musical and atmospheric elements mixed in the rears, but they are hardly blaring back-up vocals or swirling 808 drums that boom to 15 Hz. You’ll find little ticks from a programmed click track or drum machine. Sometimes, harps appear and then disappear and move to the fronts. It is a very mysterious and compelling mix if you have the patience to listen to the album enough times to digest it. It took me quite a while to get to that point, but I am glad I did.

Vespertine is more of an overall work that you start from the beginning and roll until the end. The best part is that I keep finding new things to listen to appreciate each time through. Vespertine makes for a unique selection as ultra-hip background music for a dinner party, as it never gets too loud and the organic instruments make for a pleasing musical experience. I have been listening to Vespertine recently while reading modern architecture books. While some ridiculous photos for an haute design home might catch my attention visually for a moment, the next moment it is a sip of a 1998 Bourgogne by Verget (a mineral-white Burgundy that sells for about $18 per bottle – not that I am now a wine critic, too) catches my attention. Moments later, I can be drawn back in by Vespertine. It is very relaxing lifestyle-oriented record.

Bjork has seemingly taken some musical career advice from Prince, considering the fact that she doesn’t seem to care to make music for the masses or hit records. The Prince analogy ends there. Her developed sounds and ultra-produced records are for a discerning listener and are worth developing a taste for. Vespertine will not sonically or creatively blow you away on any level. It is very laid-back, allowing its organic sounds and understated surround mix to grow on you. Bjork’s talents make Vespertine a far better record than the vast sea of anonymous electronica that pours from overseas into trendy urban record stores. Bjork’s Vespertine is a tasteful blend of poetry, modern electronic music, acoustic sounds and the work of a talented female vocalist. It might be worth your attention on DVD-Audio.

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