Saturday, March 21, 2015

Björk Marathon: Vespertine

While the filming process of Dancer in the Dark was conflicting, Björk's refuge was in creating her own music separate from the movie and Selmasongs. That music would be a world full of microbeats (made from the sampling of schuffling cards and ice being cracked), the harp, celesta, clavichord, strings, and music boxes that would create an intimate, wintry, introvert, and domestic sound. She teamed up with producers Thomas Knak, Martin Gretschmann, and Marius de Vries. She got Zeena Parkins to play the harp, the duo Matmos to create the microbeats, and had the music boxes custom made to Björk's arrangements. Though the production of Björk's conflict with Lars von Trier may have been the catalyst to her wanting to make this record, the driving force of the album's love and sex theme is clearly inspired by Björk's new relationship with Matthew Barney. This new relationship and the tension with filming---where the extrovert and introvert were separated, but balanced---ultimately birthed Björk's most gorgeous, critically acclaimed album of her career.

Björk stated how she wanted Vespertine to sound like "modern chamber music." It is that, and more.

In a true Björk fashion, Vespertine is complex in its simplicity, and yet its complexity is simple. While the previous album, Homogenic, was extremely extrovert, loud, and dramatic, Vespertine basks and glows in its skittering rhythms, warm tones, laptop pulses, plinking harps, and swooshing strings, and the hushed, womblike intimacy and explicit sensuality makes this album a unique experience unlike any other. Not only does the album focus on a new found love and the cerebral and emotional side to sex, but also on "vespers" (evening prayers) and how the word "vespertine" relates things that come out at night. Björk has also described this as a "wintry" album, and rightfully so with its coziness and warmth, where the domestic side to human nature comes to life the most vibrantly. The album is also divine with lyrics that were inspired by E.E. Cummings ("Sun in my Mouth," adapted from his poem, "I Will Wade Out") and Sarah Kane's play Crave ("An Echo, A Stain") while "Unison" was described by Björk as a song of forgiveness to Lars von Trier. Along with another tradition, the character on the album cover plays a huge part on the record's theme. Björk said:

"Vespertine is an album made by a character who's very introvert. And it's about the universe inside every person. This time around, I wanted to make sure that the scenery of the songs is not like a mountain or a city or outside, it's inside, so it's very internal. So I guess all three videos are very internal. [...] Sort of how you communicate with the world in a very intimate, personal way."

And she went on to describe how the swans on the cover represent winter and romance.

Like all of her albums, the imagery is as important as the music, and with the release of Vespertine in August 2001, a self-titled coffee table book was released in September 2001 to coincide with it, which contains a series of photos of Björk, text pieces, and pages dedicated to her collaborators.

And also released were three new music videos/singles.

The first one was Hidden Place. 

This video was notable for how Björk was wearing no makeup, with close-up shots of her face, taking focus on Björk's natural beauty.

The second was Pagan Poetry.

Being that this is the only really loud, but still introvert, song on the album, it's no surprise that the music video would end up being the boldest and most controversial music video that Björk has ever done. And it's my #1 most favorite video of hers, ever, period. It is about a woman preparing herself for marriage after making love to her lover, and she sews the wedding dress into her skin after. Nick Knight, the director of the video, was asked to make this about her love life, and he simply gave Björk a Sony camera and asked her to film private scenes herself, and that's where we have the simulated fellatio and love making moments in the video. The piercings were also shot by Björk by five women who were part of the piercing subculture, with only Björk's ear being pierced by Björk herself. The gorgeous topless wedding dress is by Alexander McQueen. The video of course was banned from airing on MTV and would later on rare occasions be aired on MTV2.

And the last and final video was Cocoon. 

As equally controversial, this video would also be her most avant-garde. This one didn't raise as much of a stir since Björk was wearing a very close-fitting body suit that only gave off the illusion of nudity, it was still banned from primetime MTV.

At the time of Vespertine's release, the album would be her fastest selling album to date, and quickly grew widespread acclaim. Not long after, Björk embarked on a tour of theatres and opera houses in Europe and North America, accompanied with Zeena Parkins, Matmos, and a choir from Greenland, whom she had held auditions for during her trip in Greenland before going on tour.

If Vespertine was Björk's magnum opus of an album, the tour was also a masterpiece itself. And as part of my collection, the best and most beautiful concert DVD of hers is this:

Björk: Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House.

A concert can't get more exquisite than this. It's still the most definitive moment of her career, and as a live performance, it's the best of her career as well. It's immediately spellbinding at Frosti.

And in All Is Full of Love.

What amazes me the most about this concert is how all the songs performed sound better than their studio versions, and also exceed and excel in its beauty even in its live form. Björk pours so much warmth, emotion, and heart into every song, surrendering her all to her music and the audience. All the songs selected flow so well together and are sung with such raw feelings that brings new life, character, and personality. Every performance here is a highlight, honestly, but here are my favs:

Generous Palmstroke 

This is one of Björk's best b-sides, originally released in the Hidden Place single. Listen to the lyrics. It's so goddamn sexy, very much a BDSM ballad and love song in one, so personal and sweet.


Hidden Place


 Harm of Will

Pagan Poetry 


And aren't Matmos, Zeena, and the Inuit choir just as lovely?

The DVD also includes bonuses taken from this Touring Vespertine DVD that would be released a little after Vespertine Live at the Royal Opera House.

I don't own this one, but I've watched it before. Honestly, it's nothing special, and since so many scenes are put into the Royal Opera House, it feels a tad unnecessary, not to mention, it's way too short and has nothing in it that isn't already said or shown for the concert DVD.

And naturally, a Vespertine Live CD was also released, with performances from the Vespertine World Tour, August-December 2001. This CD is as stunning as the DVD, and worth buying on its own. It also includes a pretty thick booklet with an interview that was taken place at her home in 2002, which gives us even greater insight into her music, her inspirations, her life and career, in her own words.

Other notable gems from the Vespertine are:

The B-Sides, and boy, didn't this album have a lot of them!

From the Pagan Poetry single:


Originally Björk wanted to call the album by this name, but felt that in an already obviously domestic-themed album, it would be "too much," but she did turn the title into a song.


From the Hidden Place single:

Verandi (one of my other favorite B-sides! It sounds so extraterrestial!)

Generous Palmstroke (the studio version)

Mother Heroic

This one sound sounds like a lullaby, just so charming.

Foot Soldier

I love how hypnotic and glitchy this is to the point of insanity! Just brilliant.

From the Cocoon single:

This song would also appear in the Being John Malkvovich soundtrack.

Another b-side that has yet to be released or published is a track called A Different Kind of Love.

This concert performance at NYC's Riverside Church:

This was aired on TV but never released on DVD or VHS. I sure wish it was. It's only 35 minutes, but goodness, you can't get more intimate than performing live at a little church like this one!

And lastly, the album cover photo shoots!

The Vespertine era is my all-time favorite of Björk's career, and it doesn't surprise me at all that most fans and critics alike see this era as Björk at her peak. Even Björk herself saw this album as her best record, and how from after recording this album and touring it, she felt so complete as an artist. This is Björk at her most visually and sonically sensual, sexy, erotic, daring, intimate, and emotional. And one can't blame her: she was in love with Matthew Barney at the time, and everything about this era showed just how much she was in love with her new man, with herself, and with her new music.


  1. Verspertine is a true masterpiece. When I have a free evening, I want to sit down and watch all the videos you included in this post!

    1. Yes, it truly is! Just about every Bjork fan agrees that this is her magnum opus :). Enjoy the videos and the b-sides! :D