Beautiful but impenetrable

Reading other reviews of Vespertine, it’s easy to think that it’ll be love on first listen.

It’s. Not. True.

Yes, Vespertine is a remarkable work. Yes, Björk has carved out yet another striking sonic palette. Yes, this album is every bit as good as every critic on the planet who’s wet himself singing high praises for Björk says it is.

But make no mistake —

Vespertine rewards only the hearty listeners who can give it at least five to seven spins.

There really isn’t anything out there at the moment that sounds like Vespertine. Boy choirs, lush strings and music boxes co-exists in harmony with needles skipping on record surfaces, thundering timpanis and bizarre percussive effects.

All throughout, Björk threads everything together with her distinct, fragile croon, drawing listeners in with a whisper.

Vespertine is nothing if not beautifully crafted. “Pagan Poetry” builds slowly to a wonderful climax when Björk exclaims repeatedly in a capella, “I love him/I love him.” Then she reaches the crux: “But this time/I’ll keep it to myself.”

“It’s Not Up to You” saunters along at a leisurely pace, but the song ebbs and flows, washing the listener in a sea of strings and harps for a second, then backing off and letting Björk spell out a nugget of truth: “If you leave it alone, it just might happen.”

“Frosti” appoximates the soothing sounds of a gamelan orchestra with music boxes, while “Aurora” overdubs harp work by Zeena Parkins with a distorted backbeat.

All told, Vespertine just writhes in beautiful sounds.

But it’s a beauty that’s presented inconspicuously. Björk treats a backbeat as a nice suggestion — her asymmetrical melodies come across as enlongated improvisation.

On 1997’s Homogenic, Björk still managed to wed hooks into some seemingly obtuse melodies, but on Vespertine, it takes a lot of attentive listening to figure out what’s melody and what’s texture.

As a result, less patient listeners might find themselves playing the album and not remembering a single thing about it. Long-time fans might find themselves intially disappointed in an album that leaves an impenetrable first impression.

But stick with it. Vespertine pays off in the end.