Over her career, which stretches back to her days as an Icelandic Britney Spears-esque pop star, Björk has evolved from anarchist punk to new-wave queen to unlikely left-field Madonna to adventuresome examiner of drum-and-bass, electronica and house. On Vespertine, her fourth (or fifth, or sixth, depending on how you count them) album, Björk examines virgin pearls of electronic sound and strings them together with the heavenly tones of music boxes and harp (courtesy of the downtown New York City harpist Zeena Parkins), choral and string sections, rubber beats and pops and clicks. The result is gorgeous, filled with sounds never before heard on a pop album (though she's mining a scene that's thriving in Europe right now, alternately called blip-hop and "clicks and cuts"). Her collaborators illustrate the current focus of her vision: filmmaker Harmony Korine, Guy Sigsworth, genius laptop creator Matthew Herbert, San Francisco audio doctors Matmos and German techno artist Console.
Björk and company have a uniformly delicate touch on Vespertine; on previous efforts, exclamation points abounded in the form of brass bursts and beat breakdowns. Vespertine is punctuated with a different kind of grandiosity, one that favors subtle, building tension and understands that silence can make as strong an impact as sound. The amazing thing, though, is that even after the hundredth listen, the music still manages to hit with the intensity of an unforeseen French kiss. A ghostly chorus bursts through the chorus of "Hidden Place"; a harp offers an elliptical introduction to "Pagan Poetry"; a Casio beat drips snare snippets in "Heirloom." These little moments abound and combine to create one huge magical moment, one that's wet with sweat one minute, encased in ice the next.