Earlier this year, Björk sent rock blogs rippling when she described the upcoming Utopia as her “Tinder album.” It was almost too strange to imagine music’s high-art wood sprite doing anything as prosaic as swiping right — kind of like catching a unicorn at Costco, loading up on its monthly supply of frozen taquitos and tube socks.
It turns out (as she later clarified) that she had only meant it figuratively: a fresh swing toward romance after the emotional exorcism of 2015’s bruising breakup chronicle Vulnicura. Though if any artist were capable of sprinkling her inscrutable pixie dust on a journey through the dating-app hinterlands, it would be Ms. Guðmundsdóttir. Shimmering lead single “The Gate” makes heady metaphors of chest wounds and light beams, framed by a wafting chorus that spirals the phrase “I care for you” into near infinity. The almost 10-minute-long “Body Memory” builds to a sustained riot of New Age pan flute and digitally distorted wildcat growls; creatures chirp and howl, too, all over the sense-drenching “Courtship,” while the wordless wonder “Paradisa” tumbles prettily into “Saint,” a twittering midsummer dream.
Certain phrases do rise to the surface, like the word cube on a Magic 8 Ball. But Utopia is almost completely a sensory experience, fantastical soundscapes designed for secret snowflake rituals and Valkyrie picnics. In the midst of so much esoterica, it’s hard sometimes not to miss the more accessible Björk of the ’90s and early 2000s. Though in hindsight her flirtation with conventional pop craft may have been just that — one more whimsical detour on a long and seemingly unmappable creative path. And there’s still something thrilling about an artist who continues to invent herself: reaching further with every symphonic blip and wild birdcall, and redefining what it means to write a love song. B+