Go To A Hidden Place | Bjork’s 2001 masterpiece on love breathes warmth through crystalline landscapes.

Dancer in the Dark sparked a change in the sound Bjork wanted to move forward with. Compared to the explosive beats and dramatic landscapes on Homogenic, Vespertine takes a softer, more delicate approach. She has described this record as an introverted album:

Well, yes, my other albums, especially Homogenic, have been very extroverted, very bullet-proof… Hidden things, just to do with the things that we dream about at night, the more Nijinksy sides of us. Sometimes they are subdued, but they are always there.”

Bjork would work with experimental electronic duo Matmos to help shape the microbeats that anchor the web of strings, music boxes, choirs, and various instrumentations that make album shine. She would also call in experimental harpist and multi-instrumentalist Zeena Parkins, along with Guy Sigsworth and Thomas Knak (Opiate) to weave the sounds she wanted. She also worked with a music box company to craft the distinctly arctic sound that fills the album:

I’d always wanted to work with music boxes but it was waiting for the right occasion. I’d been collecting them and stuff. The main thing was that I wanted to write my own songs in music boxes. In the beginning, the music box company weren’t very excited. They’d made wooden boxes for eons and I wanted see-through plexiglass. They couldn’t get their head round it — they were like ‘Why?’ They wanted to make the plonky sound softer with wood but I wanted it as hard as possible, like it was frozen. In the end, they said it was the best thing they’d ever done.”

The main theme of the album is love, be it familial, sexual, self, or platonic. It’s filled with the euphoric feelings of passion. This echoing the real life feelings Bjork had for ex-husband Matthew Barney at the time. Every layer of this project is a textural dream.

It opens with the breathtaking “Hidden Place”. It’s lyricism immediately places you in the warm glow of this hidden sanctuary that these two lovers have created for themselves. In an interview with Bjork on the track, she stated:

“I guess ‘Hidden Place’ is sort of about, um, how two people can create a paradise just by uniting. You’ve got an emotional location that’s mutual. And it’s unbreakable. And it’s, uh, obviously it’s make-believe.. So, you could argue that it doesn’t exist because it’s invisible, but, uh, of course it does. And it’s sort of a one-nil situation. Or, um, yeah, if you believe in something high enough… I mean, maybe at first when you mention it, and you talk about it and it doesn’t exist. It might be artificial, but you just keep on believing in it and it grows strong. It’ll become real, you know. And I guess that’s something, sort of the human spirit conquering the dullness and boredom”.

The unique percussive sounds on the track come from Bjork shuffling of cards to create this fluttering beat that transports you to this safe haven. The amorphous soundscape gives the feeling of movement through a wide open space. I have to crown it as one of her most captivating opening tracks and lead singles (Bjork knows how to choose a lead single).

The official music video to “Hidden Place” directed by inez van lamsweerde & vinoodh matadin.

Cocoon” is the most intimate and delicate of all the tracks off the album. Regarding the lyrics, Bjork told New Music Express this about the song in 2001:

“The lyric to ‘Cocoon’ was a whole diary, then I had to edit 90 per cent of it out. It’s very hard to explain, but when I read it and the other person it’s about reads it, we don’t feel abused or anything. I think there’s songs where I’ve been more… scruffy about what I’m expressing. I have a problem with music that’s too indulgent. It’s like; ‘Keep your own dirty laundry, please.’”

Her vocals are in her upper register and almost whispered. It feels like your being told a secret. The sample of a microphone over clothing, a celeste, and other various small textural beats create the ambiance of deep intimacy in one’s bedroom. The video was banned due to the nudity shown (albeit Bjork covered in white body paint).

The tracks “It’s Not Up to You” and “Undo” are like positive mantras to brush away clouds and let the light in. “It’s Not Up to You” sees Bjork letting go of all her preconceived notions of how her day will be, “How do I master the perfect day?/ Six glasses of water/ Seven phone calls/ If you leave it alone, it might just happen/ Anyway/ It’s not up to you, oh, it never really was”. It’s textures of harps, clavichord, strings, and a choir take the moodier verses into pure bliss by the song’s chorus. Bjork’s vocals are also purer and higher adding to the lightness of not only this track, but many on this record.“Undosamples the Opiate’s quiet atmospheric track “1% of 2/3 Speed”. It’s soft beats and hums give the beginnings of sunlight that the harp, strings, and choir bring roll over you. Bjork’s words act as a reassuring guide as we work against our feelings to give up, “Unfold, In a generous way/ Surrender/ surrender (It’s not meant to be a strife)/ (It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill) Undo, undo”.

An Echo, a Stain” is probably the most unsettling song on the album. It’s glitchy samples, haunting choral hum, and emptiness give a sense of being hung in limbo. The song draws inspiration from Sarah Kane’s play Crave, which contains several dark themes such as rape, drug abuse, and murder (to name a few). Bjork’s words feel foreboding here, “Don’t say no to me/ You can’t say no to me/ I won’t see you/ Denied/ I’m sorry you saw that/ I’m sorry he did it/ An echo/ A stain”.

Pagan Poetry” has a bit of a darker, almost eastern inspired sound. Bjork is fighting against giving herself fully to someone, while wanting to maintain a sense of freedom. She grabbles with this duality of sexuality and monogamy like it were a pagan tale, “On the surface simplicity/ (Swirling black lilies totally ripe)/But the darkest pit in me/ And it’s pagan poetry/ (Swirling black lilies totally ripe)/ Pagan poetry”. It’s mystery and dancing music boxes make it one of the high points on the record. The music video, directed by Nick Knight, was banned due to its depiction of piercing, sexuality, and Bjork’s bare breasts. I will include a link to the video below, but warn of its explicit content.

The official music video to Bjork’s “Pagan Poetry” which was directed by Nick Knight and was banned due to its explicit content.

One of the most gorgeous tracks on the album is the short instrumental interlude “Frosti”. The music boxes create a sound like sunlight sparkling off freshly fallen snow. My only complaint is how short the song is. It transitions brilliantly into the tundra of “Aurora”. The opening uses the sound of shoes walking through salt to create the textural feeling of trudging through snow. Both “Aurora”, “Sun in My Mouth”, and “Harm of Will” take on a more erotic theme. “Aurora” is a mix of climbing and descending vocals and shimmering instrumentation that plays off a childhood memory of Bjork’s, “Aurora/ Goddess sparkle/ A mountain shade/ Suggests your shape/ I tumbled down/ On my knees/ Fill the mouth/ With snow”. These memories of stumbling down in the snow to take it into your mouth have a double meaning. “Sun in My Mouth” really breathes in a warm landscape of flowers against its soft music boxes. Here, the more self gratifying nature of its sensual lyrics are laid bare, “To dash against darkness/ In the sleeping curves of my body/ I shall enter fingers of smooth mastery/ With chasteness of seagirls/ Will I complete the mystery of my flesh?”. I can not recommend enough the remix that was recomposed by Ensemble. It’s otherworldly. Finally, “Harm of Will” is the softest and most dramatic. The rising and falling orchestration against music boxes add a grandeur. Bjork has described the story behind the track as:

… loosely sketch the tale of a troubadour and libertine who takes commitment-free sexual pleasure from his conquests.

Compared to the other tracks on the album, it’s lyrics are the most abstract and don’t really hit for me.

Heirloom” is the most electronic sounding track out the bunch. This is owed to the use of Console’s “Crabcraft”, which sizzles, bubbles, and shines behind Bjork’s words. Here, we focus more on familial love. Her lyrics revolve around a dream she has where her mother and son help her regain her voice back, “While I’m asleep/ My mother and son pour into me/ Warm glowing oil/ Into my wide open throat/ I have a recurrent dream/ Every time I feel a hoarseness/ I swallow warm glowing lights/ My mother and son baked for me/ They make me feel so much better”. She seems to imply that even when she thinks she may lose her voice (be it metaphorically), her family helps her regain that confidence to speak. “Unison” ends out the record in the most breathtaking manner. The track samples the scratchy notes and hum of Aero Deck’s “Oval”. Where the song truly shines is with the birth of harp, strings, and choir as it rushes against you like iridescent light. Bjork, who had been happy with her more solitary lifestyle, sees herself abandoning her wild ways for the man she is madly in love with, “You, gardener/ You, discipliner/ Domestically/ I can obey all of your rules/ And still be, be/ I never thought I would compromise/ Let’s unite tonight/ We shouldn’t fight/ Embrace you tight/ Let’s unite tonight”. The song is probably one of my favorite closers of all time.

The lushness and warmth of this record is unmatched by anything she had made to this point and remains one of her most critically acclaimed albums to date (not to mention the birth of the wonderfully misunderstood Swan dress). She would embark on an opera house tour that would be shown in one of her live DVD releases. After the birth of her daughter, Isadora, and release of her greatest hits project (with the track “It’s in Our Hands” that she had been teasing during her Vespertine tour), she would begin work on her most unique album yet, Medulla. I can’t really say that I skip any track on this record. Even the ones I don’t connect with still captivate me in one way or another. My favorites include:

  • Hidden Place
  • It’s Not Up to You
  • Undo
  • Pagan Poetry
  • Unison

I have to give this album a 10 out of 10. It’s truly a gem. Give a full listen and transport yourself to that special hidden place.

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Z-sides: Music Reviews

Z-sides: Music Reviews

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Welcome to my personal blog. This is a place where I discuss any of my musical finds or faves. Drop in and have a listen.