It's tempting to say that after Homogenic, there was no direction but down. Vespertine is the settling of the previous record's tectonics: the angry beats Björk made with Mark Bell are made microscopic with the assistance of IDM artists like Matmos, Matthew Herbert and Thomas Knak. The orchestral lushness remains; indeed, this album boasts the most romantic treatments in her catalog. Thematically, this is a domestic work about, as Björk sighs at midway point "Aurora, " the "utter mundane". "Vespertine," literally, refers to eveningtime, and while Wikipedia quotes her as saying "Vespertine is little insects rising from the ashes," it could also refer to the time to reflect on the day's labors (or lack of same). "How do I master the perfect day?" she asks on "It's Not Up to You," "Six glasses of water/Seven phone calls." (It's worth noting, for the hell of it, that the brief bassline sounds eerily like Michael Ivins' work on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.) The six-minute "Unison" closes on a slightly treacly note (calls to "unite" usually end up that way), but still offers a cheeky self-portrait of the singer as a bearded, pipe-smoking hermit, and offers the line "I never thought I would compromise" as contented clarity.
To complement to her puttering beats, Björk spends much of the album at an intimate volume -- parceling out her phrases deliberately -- turning the grandiosity over to a new element: choirs. In theory, the choral arrangements are well-suited to the twilight feel, but they're turned to so often it threatens the balance of the record. If the Harmony Korine co-write "Harm of Will" is, as it's often claimed, about Will Oldham -- and the stilted syntax and skeezy sexuality would seem to indicate as much -- then the choral treatment pushes the track into the realm of high comedy. (More effective is the chorus of Björks that creak out "she loves him" on the buzzy, pulsing "Pagan Poetry".) There's something similarly heavy-handed about the use of music box, which appears on three straight tracks, including the superfluous solo instrumental "Frosti".
Regardless, the record is on the whole more pretty than precious, and the turn from the controlled chaos of Homogenic toward classical beauty was one that few musicians would dare to make. Neither would many artists literally wear their record's theme, as she did in the infamous, Marjan Pejoski-designed swan dress. (The dress has its own Wikipedia page.) Björk was