You can’t just listen to Björk, you have to watch her too. She remains, to this day, one of the most absolutely and singularly transfixing makers of art and the fact that her avant-gradisms in the visual and aural worlds have framed her as a career cult act with a resounding mainstream appeal owes to how incredibly she articulates the universal in either realm.
Right now, we’re on the cusp of a new Björk album. Among the more crucial points that are known about the follow-up to the devastating 2015 opus Vulnicura are that it’s christened Utopia and that it was co-produced by the bristlingly talented young instigator Arca. Utopia, which Björk has described as being “about rediscovering love – but in a spiritual way, for lack of a better word”, also takes off from where the down-on-its-knees breakup album Vulnicura left off. And when its lead single “The Gate” was released last week, we got to experience just how apparent that continuity it is.
Björk’s artistic universe is a welcoming arena for cognitive dissonance. “The Gate” and its accompanying visuals are simple but not really. The verses and refrains are short, clipped and plainspoken. But it’s with her sui generis touch that she makes all these banal things transcendentally and existentially significant all at once.
As in its lovely video, comprising of pullulating visuals by Björk’s longstanding collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang, wherein Björk, outfitted in clothes designed by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, weaves a prismatic ball of light, of sublime energy, to animate a CGI-ed male figure, the track exists as a love song. Its first verse is foundational to its entire theme and resolution: “My healed chest wound / Transformed into a gate / Where I receive love from / Where I give love from”. Her heart, now healed of its former pain, is a gate, a portal for love – sincerely ushering in and passionately giving out.
Throughout the song’s almost seven-minute run, Arca creates a mood of simmering, soulful and almost heartrending majesty. The warped multi-tracked eddies of Björk’s vocals—that suffuse every inch of space with a pleading intensity—bubble throughout an ocean push-pulling with shimmering textures and digi-harp sounds, the sum of which is haunting in the absolutely transportive sense and utterly enveloping.
What lingers in the mind like glowing radioactive embers is the chorus. “And I care for you, care for you / I care for you, care for you / Care for you, care for you / I care for you, care for you” – simple lines. But, oh, the sweeping force with which she delivers them. What is the underlying sentiment behind this, if not the beating heart behind any Utopia? Behind any wished-for heaven on Earth?
“The Gate” is a model of personal evolution, for Björk and the listener. And we are the better for its existence – especially in a time like this, when a utopia seems like a pretty urgent thing to wish for.