Vespertine is an album Bjork needed to make. Her sensitivitly and emotional up and downs have been well documented, be it close calls with stalkers or an out of nowhere attack on a journalist at an airport. Also pretty public were her exhausted tantrums and breakdowns while making the film Dancer in the Dark, a film that rubbed Bjorks already open nerves even rawer. After all of the hoopla surrounding the film and Oscar accolades, she stated that she was going to go away for awhile and that she really needed was to make some music and heal herself. The result would be Vespertine.
For me, Bjork is one of the few artists who can make electronic music emotive. Unlike most electronic artists, Bjork manages to engineer sounds that breathe and have life instead of coming across cold and calculated. With Vespertine her sound hasn't changed much. Like her last album, Homogenic, her music combines electronic tracks with classical instruments. The electronic tracks, bass, sound loops, and beats, either have a pleasant distortion or a smooth brightness, while the string and more traditional instrument (like vibes) arrangements provide an atonal backdrop or a lilting, lifting melodies.
Her first two albums had an exuberance and playfulness, maintaining the youthful experimentation of her first band The Sugarcubes, but with Homogenic and Vespertine she has become a much more internalized and mature artist. On Vespertines twelve tacks, her distinctive voice is a bit subdued and doesn't really go for the thunderous roars and coy growling vocalism's found on her first two albums. Aside from the occasional high notes and sustained line, her voice is lullaby soft and bittersweet. And, it is fitting, her voice is merely matching the intimacy of the lyrics with lines like "I tumble down on my knees and fill my mouth with snow. The way it melts, I wish to melt into you..." on "Aurora", or "I can smell a pinch of hope" on "Hidden Place, "Will I complete the mystery of my flesh?" on "Sun In My Mouth", or the chorus "His love is not meant to be a struggle uphill" on "Undo".
The only real argument I could make in negative terms for the album, is that it may be a tad too laid back and the production lends to the songs being a bit similar- beautiful but similar. Some critics had the same gripes recently with Beck's album "Sea Change", that his monotone tales of sour love and neo-folk stylings was a bit monotonous over the course of an album. Noraj Jones got the same rep too with her Grammy grabbing debut. Honestly, unlike Homegenic, I cannot recall any real standout songs on Vespertine. In terms of an album it does have a great lulling emotional power, but in terms of standout tracks none come to mind other than the instrumental "Frosti".
Menu: A static screen with a simple design. Song titles are in pretty small print, so those with smaller screens will be squinting to read them. While song selections play, the screen goes to a simple black and white design that looks like a Pac Man baby chick.
DVD Audio: Dolby Digital. Two options, a Stereo mix or a 5.1 mix. I stuck to mainly the 5.1 mix since it seemed most clear and dynamic in comparison. The Stereo mix didn't seem that drastically different from standard audio, however the 5.1 mix was much more lush. As I said, the album is quite spacious, Bjorks mix in the vocals is very intimate, going from small, like she is a figurine in a music box whispering a melody to you, or in "Undo", a full chorus, like you are in a small room with a choir of Bjorks warmly surrounding you.
As far as the audio response, the 5.1 track particularly helps out the bass. The driving bass part of "Pagan Poetry" carries the song along and the slight dip in the notes of the bass line for "Hidden Place" is more present. The droning synth and upbeat percussion of "Heirloom" has more punch. Overall there is just more separation and tonal range in the 5.1 tracks than the stereo track. Each instrument, sound, or sample floats in its own place nicely, melding with its compliment.
This being my first DVD Audio experience, I'm impressed but not completely sold on it. It is a step up, but not one as drastic as say, the difference between a tape and a cd or a vhs and a DVD. If you are DVD Audio capable and you love an artist, certainly you should look to see if their albums are available in the format. On the other hand, I don't exactly forsee it spelling death for standard cds, yet... We'll see.
Extras: None. No bonus tracks. No gallery of photos. Just the album in better audio.
Conclusion: If you are a Bjork fan with a player capable of DVD Audio, you should be impressed and very satisfied with the presentation. It offers a richness beyond the standard cd stereo and the production really shines. In terms of packaging and extras its not a flashier presentation than a run of the mill cd, so that is a bit disappointing. Despite how nice the audio is, it is not so great that I think DVD Audio will cause a revolution, so don't throw away your cd player yet.