Released in 2001, Vespertine is the sound of Björk in love. It was written and recorded as the singer was tumbling headfirst into a relationship with her future long-term partner, the conceptual artist Matthew Barney. Along the way, she found the shimmering sonic treasures of Vespertine. But for all its romantic moments, this is also an album born out of pain. Vespertine got underway during production on Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier’s bleak 2000 musical melodrama, Dancer in the Dark. Björk served as the film’s lead actor, and also composed songs for the soundtrack (which were eventually released on her album Selmasongs). Dancer in the Dark was met with critical acclaim—with Björk even receiving an Oscar nod for the song “I’ve Seen It All.” But the filming process itself proved harrowing. During that fraught time on the set, a fictional character named Vespertine—whom Björk later described as a “lady in waiting, hibernating in winter”—became a sort of refuge for the Icelandic songstress, and helped inspire the 12 tracks found here. Björk envisioned Vespertine as a response to the extroverted, more nature-based qualities of 1997’s Homogenic—a headphones-and-laptop opus explicitly made for the dawning age of Napster. To bring Vesperine to life, she enlisted a stable of collaborators, including The Notwist alum Martin Gretschmann—aka Console—as well as the experimental duo Matmos. Together, they came up with a suite of songs rife with whispery vocals, found sounds, and sonic moments that Björk fondly dubbed “microbeats”—all of it designed not to sound compromised when downloaded online. The result is a multidimensional wonder. On Vespertine, the low-end orchestral swirl of “Hidden Place” tips into the sparse, delicate clatter of the sexually explicit “Cocoon.” Meanwhile, the harp-kissed “It’s Not Up to You” and the glimmering “Aurora” play with different sides of glitchy, slow-burn balladry. But there’s perhaps no purer distillation of the artist’s muse—and of Björk’s romantic state of mind—than Vespertine’s cathedral-like centerpiece, “Pagan Poetry,” what with its ecstatic, guileless refrain: “I love him, I love him, I love him, I love him.”

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