Not content to rest on her laurels following 2015’s acclaimed experiment Vulnicura—a living, breathing document of a painful split from longtime love Matthew Barney—Björk quickly got to work on her ninth studio release. If Vulnicura was about “the emotional cold nights” of their breakup, then 2017’s cheerily titled Utopia was designed to evolve from that dark place. Utopia would also continue the native Icelander’s enduring affinity for the natural world—though Björk was careful to qualify that thought: “Nature means a lot to me, but not in the way people think,” she told a journalist in 2016. “It’s not this romantic, idyllic, let-us-go-back-into-the-caves thing. That’s why I get annoyed when I get all my elf and volcano questions from people who have watched too much Lord of the Rings. There is a truth in it, but it is also a lazy cliché.” Unsurprisingly, clichés are hard to come by on Utopia. The album’s expansive opening track, “Arisen My Senses,” layers harp and stuttering percussion over left-field samples and joyful lyrics about life-altering kisses. “Blissing Me” features shimmering, almost church-like vocals, while the title track—with its crackles and caws—could be beamed in from some Jurassic fantasy. Meanwhile, the lead single, “The Gate,” sweetens its rippling electronics, bird sounds, and woodwinds with a tender, looping refrain: “I care for you.” Avant-garde folktronica and 12-piece Icelandic flute sections don’t exactly lend themselves to radio play. And, indeed, Utopia proved to be a challenge for even the artist’s most dedicated fans. Still, there’s a lot of beauty to be found in Arca’s otherworldly production—and there’s true joy to be had in witnessing Björk’s emergence from the emotional ashes of Vulnicura.

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