Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Bjork – “Heirloom” from Vespertine (2001, One Little Indian*)


I just lost a draft of this post in its entirety, so I’ll fight against the temptation to give you the abridged version. Speaking of fighting against temptation, when an artist like Björk appears on the Shuffler, there is a temptation to write at great length about her entire career. That temptation is usually followed by a great trepidation. I mean, how do you write about someone like Björk? Do you begin wtih the Sugarcubes, making connections to this later work? Do you go even further back and discuss the significance of Tappi Tikarrass, her early eighties band that sounded like a weirder, poppier, more Icelandic Gang of Four?

Or maybe I just write about the song. It begins with a very rudimentary keyboard percussion that instantly reminds me of the demo music on my friend’s Casio SK-1 that we used to belch into when we were nine, but wetter. That’s maybe weird, but I remember that when Vespertine first came out I thought a lot of the production sounded like eating. While it’s not clear that hte mastication sounds were entirely intentional, it does seem, according to Wikipedia, that little about Veserptine‘s production was left to chance:

Björk wanted to make an album with an intimate, winter, domestic sound. With the rising popularity of Napster and music downloads, she decided to use instruments whose sound would not be compromised when downloaded and played in a computer: these include the harp —played by Zeena Parkins—, celestaclavichord and music boxes, the latter were custom made; strings are also heavily featured. In Vespertine Björk also added “microbeats” made from the sampling of shuffling cards and ice being cracked, among other household sounds with the help of the duo Matmos.

I’m not sure, being old and out of touch, but I think that perhaps if this song were released today, people on the internet would be calling it chill wave. I also think that it is telling that, while she did enlist the help of Matmos, Björk had a very deliberate vision for the way that she wanted this album to sound, and indeed, as with all of her albums, is listed as a producer. I think that too often we fail to look past a pretty voice where female musicians are concerned and don’t expect that women can and do write, conceptualize, and envision. This is, at the end of the day, Björk’s record, and she knew exactly what she was doing.

And we could all benefit. She sings a song here that could very well be a sort of guided meditation against stress and anxiety:

I have a recurrent dream
Everytime I lose my voice
I swallow little glowing lights
My mother and son baked for me

And during the night
They do a trapeze walk
Until they’re in the sky
Right above my bed

While I’m asleep
My mother and son pour into me
Warm glowing oil
Into my wide open throat

I have a recurrent dream
Everytime I feel a hoarseness
I swallow warm glowing lights
My mother and son baked for me, oh

They make me feel so much better
They make me feel better

We have a recurrent dream
Everytime we loose our voices
We dream swallow little lights
Our mother and son bake for us

During the night
They do a little trapeze walk
Until they’re in the sky
Right above our heads
While we’re asleep
My mother and son pour into us
Pour into us
Warm glowing oil
Into our wide open throats

I have a recurrent dream

They make me feel better
They make me feel better

Björk’s recurrent dream could be the centering daydream that we should all be forcing ourselves to have every stressed out, overworked afternoon. Imagine how much better life would be if we all took a half hour to dim the lights, lay on the floor, and listen to this song on repeat? Could the warm glowing oil be exactly the thing we need?
Perhaps it’s farfetched, but maybe Björk could save us all.


*I’m not super excited about the name of this record label and its racial implications, but inclined to give Bjork the benefit of the doubt, given that she’s from Iceland and everything. And apparently the label was started by UK anarchist types, who can usually be counted on to be progressive, if nothing else. But still.