Music Loves, Too
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #98. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
No piece of art meant more to me this year – or, arguably, any recent year – than the return of Twin Peaks.
That includes the music – spread over three records, it’s a treasure trove of score and songs and sound effects, from Angelo Badalamenti, Dean Hurley and David Lynch to Nine Inch Nails, Sharon Van Etten and Eddie Vedder.
Taken as a whole, it’s my soundtrack of 2017.
But it isn’t my Album of the Year.
When I started my award a quarter century ago – yes, this is my 25th(!) winner – I set two basic rules for myself I reserve the right to change on a whim but have stuck with ever since anyway:
The record must be released during the calendar year.
It must be made up of original recordings – covers, for sure, but not old material or compilations that include the prerecorded work of others.
There was a lot of that in the music of Twin Peaks, but because it was curated so well, I was ready to throw those rules right out the window – until the week of Thanksgiving.
That’s when I took a brand new record with me to Mexico City and, during a fabulous family vacation that took us from Frida Kahlo’s house to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, I fell asleep each night to Bjork’s Utopia.
I’ve been falling asleep to my 2017 Album of the Year nearly every night since.
It’s been 16 years since I loved a Bjork record like this. Vespertine was my top record of 2001, when I’d listen to it sitting in the window of my apartment in Prague, or riding the tram across the Vlatava, watching the snow fall. And hearing the snow fall – in particular the sound of boots making tracks in the soft, thick powder – through my headphones.
On Utopia, there are growling wolverines and the bitter leftovers from a devastating divorce. But similar in some ways to Vespertine, which wraps you in the warmth of winter, this record is blanketed with tropical birdsongs and flutes; where Vespertine sings of secret loves and hidden places, Utopia explores sex and romance through the swapping of mp3s and the swiping of apps. Where Vespertine pleads for a do-over on its most powerful track, “Undo,” a choir-filled prayer for a new beginning, Utopia carefully plots out its do-over, point by point, culminating in a pair of songs as moving as any in Bjork’s incomparable catalogue.
“Music loves too. I am here to defend it,” Bjork states on “Saint,” her voice low in the mix as the swirling sounds overpower her words and attempt to leap from the speakers to form tangible objects in the air.
Bjork didn’t play The Roadhouse on Twin Peaks, but the surreal world of this record draws you in. And in the same way Lynch embraces the comic and the dramatic in the same moments, so does the final track – at least for me. When Björk sings, “Hold fort for love” on “Future Forever,” it’s the proclamation of a survivor, coming back to life after a loss – or a “Losss,” spelled with three s’s in the title of Track 8. But when I mishear the lyric, over and over, in Bjork’s Icelandic accent as “Hold fart for love,” the humor does nothing to diminish it for me. Nor do the bird sounds all over the record – lush and exotic, yes, but still I imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by so many flying creatures, and all the bird shit that would surely land on me.
But that’s love, isn’t it? Opening your heart to someone, sometimes getting betrayed, sometimes getting shat on, and then, sometimes, at least in those early days of romance, sucking in your gas to make her love you more than you think you might deserve.
Rounding out the Top 5: 2. The Music of Twin Peaks; 3. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked At Me; 4. Offa Rex — The Queen of Hearts; 5. Hurray For The Riff Raff — The Navigator
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.