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Single Review: Bjork – the gate
Jack Lawrence reviews 'the gate', an intriguing return for Bjork that yet lacks the vital eccentricities of her best work
No matter what Bjork chooses to do as an artist, there is almost a guarantee that it will surprise even her most ardent fans. The first single to be released from her latest album Utopia is no exception, its moody minimalism taking a greatly unconventional approach towards both songwriting and electronic music.
For a lead single, ‘the gate’ is a shockingly vague and atmospheric effort, the sparse vocals and repetition owing clear inspiration to Bjork’s collaborator/producer Arca, an artist whose own 2017 release may indicate a similar style being adopted for Bjork’s upcoming record.
The layering of Bjork’s vocals in both the intro and outro of this track is brilliantly done, her harmonies being complemented by string sections that disappear gradually to usher in a much darker tone. Her refrain- 'I care for you / you care for me' is both romantic and somewhat detached, its sentiment bringing to mind the themes of Bjork’s own divorce as previously alluded to on Vulnicura. In fitting with this idea, ‘the gate’ seems to explore the themes of joining and separating, Bjork using images of 'splattered light beams into prisms / that will reunite' as an artificial image to contrast genuine human interaction.
“For a lead single, 'the gate’ is a shockingly vague and atmospheric effort
In delivering these lyrics, Bjork’s vocal performance is uncharacteristically restrained, the Icelandic singer never delving into her upper register or delivering typically ‘Bjork-ish’ vocal quirks. Though this does give the song an uniquely serious tone (one very much in fitting with her previous album Vulnicura), I can’t help but be left wishing for a more unhinged performance from such a typically exciting artist.
Production-wise, ‘the gate’ is fantastically polished, the subtle instrumentation using a blend of both the organic and synthetic: lavish strings backed by pulsating synths and disorienting sound effects that seem to almost mimic the sound of breathing. Arca’s influence can be best heard in the many intricacies at work here, with many tiny effects and sounds only becoming revealed on repeated listens.
The electronic drums on this track are wonderfully utilised, only being triggered occasionally so as to build tension towards the chorus. Additionally, the way they are panned gives the song an almost techno-influenced sound, one that contrasts beautifully with the classical strings and recalls Bjork’s early 2000’s work on Vespertine. However, though the production of the track is a joy to listen to, the songwriting itself becomes somewhat repetitive when stretched to six and a half minutes, especially when the 'I care for you' chorus is repeated several times where a well-written bridge would have left the track feeling much more substantial. Therefore, though the song blossoms like the best of Bjork often does, it never seems to really hit a kind of climax that would cement it as something truly brilliant.
“Arca’s influence can be best heard in the many intricacies at work here, with many tiny effects and sounds only becoming revealed on repeated listens
As the supposed introduction to Utopia, ‘the gate’ best sets the tone for the record’s themes of love and isolation; it is, according to Bjork herself - 'about rediscovering love - but in a spiritual way, for lack of a better word'.Regardless of whether or not this song will benefit from repeated listens or take on further meaning within the full album, the unique progression on display here makes Bjork’s upcoming record all the more exciting.
'the gate' is available to stream online now. Utopia is released in November through One Little Indian Records.