“She’s figured out how to get by just on being cute,” my painfully cool friend Dion informed me that summer 13 years ago when Bjork’s Vespertine came out. “Not quite worth the wait,” sniffed Pitchfork. Like Patti Smith’s Dream of Life (dare I see the beginnings of a sexist double standard for home-and-family records?), Vespertine was called oversweet, overpretty. it marked the first time Bjork was identified with a schtick instead of a sound, as if the album’s distant chirring drums and choral suspensions were any less rich than the raspy cellos and oceaning pound of Homogenic, her previous.
But Vespertine remains the Bjork record I like best. It’s a home record, a sex record, a dream record: gathering ripe black lilies. Climbing a tree’s private branches. Waking up with your lover still inside you. Taking the sun in your mouth. Tilting your head to get an angle on the day. Repeating “I love him” eight times. Vespertine still smells like mildew for me, Nivea, coffee, oven-roasted vegetables and old carpets: the place in the north U District (the basement of a house packed with bitter, high-strung ultimate frisbee players) I shared with my college sweetie where we played Vespertine every day. I remember making love to this record, having pointless fights, hosting our parents in a tiny shouldn’t-have-been-there basement kitchen.
Vespertine‘s movement feels like my memory does: inward-and-down, not forward-and-up. There’s no epiphany like Post‘s “Isobel,” or screaming blowout like Homogenic‘s “Pluto,” only a slow descent toward unity. It sounds like I felt when I was deep in love. It also sounds like I feel now on days of, say, feeding ducks with my toddler, squeezing in a prayer in front of a candle, waking up early enough that I can write my dreams down. This song is my favorite, a dream (speaking of) I grasp without understanding.