Breathy gasps occupy empty space on Vespertine, Björk's newest and best album, as though she's drowning in nectar. Elsewhere on the record, snow melts in her mouth, water surrounds her thighs, ripe black lilies swirl. She ingests little glowing lights and warm golden oil. Objects caress -- her own fingers, his "crooked five fingers," mouths, breath, water. A world of sensuality seems to consume her, and the musical accompaniment -- icy one moment, warm and fluid the next -- traces these interactions like a lonely skater drawing figure-eights on an early-spring pond.
Over her career, which stretches back to her days as an Icelandic Britney Spears-esque pop star, Björk has evolved from an anarchist punk to new-wave queen to unlikely left-field Madonna to adventuresome examiner of drum & bass, electronica and house.
On Vespertine, her fourth (or fifth, or sixth, depending on how you count them) album, Björk examines virgin pearls of electronic sound, strings them together with the heavenly tones of music boxes and harp (courtesy of the downtown NYC harpist Zeena Parkins), choral and string sections, rubber beats, pops and clicks, and the result is gorgeous, filled with sounds never before heard on a pop album (though she's mining a scene that's thriving in Europe right now, alternately called blip-hop and "clicks and cuts"). Her collaborators illustrate the current focus of her vision: filmmaker Harmony Korine, Guy Sigsworth, genius laptop creator Matthew Herbert, San Francisco audio doctors Matmos and German techno artist Console.
Björk and company have a uniformly delicate touch on Vespertine; on previous efforts, exclamation points abounded in the form of brass bursts and beat breakdowns. Vespertine is punctuated with a different kind of grandiosity, one that favors subtle, building tension and understands that silence can make as strong an impact as sound. The amazing thing, though, is that even after the 100th listen, the music still manages to hit with the intensity of an unforeseen French kiss. A ghostly chorus bursts through the chorus of "Hidden Place"; a harp offers an elliptical introduction to "Pagan Poetry"; a Casio beat drips snare snippets in "Heirloom." These little moments abound and combine to create one huge magical moment, a moment that's wet with sweat one minute, encased in ice the next.