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Courtesy of Pitchfork/NOWNESS

September 23, 2017

Paradise Reclaimed? “The Gate” by Björk

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I was idly scrolling through Facebook when I saw Bjӧrk’s announcement that her new single, “The Gate,” would be released on September 18th. I was ecstatic. I was anxious. Inevitably, though, I got caught up with school; I washed helplessly away on tides of homework and caffeine.

I was aimlessly adrift until September 14th, when Bjӧrk made another surprise announcement that she was too excited to wait and that she would be releasing “The Gate” at midnight that night (technically the 15th). I waited impatiently through classes that day. I got home at six. As if I needed an actual reason to, I procrastinated on my homework. I ate dinner. I procrastinated again.

Then suddenly, it was time.

Before I continue, though, let me interject by professing my love for Bjӧrk. I loved Debut; I loved Post; I loved Homogenic; I loved her in the movie Dancer in the Dark; I loved Vespertine; I loved Medúlla; I loved Volta; I loved Biophilia. I listened, enraptured, to all of these albums, each one inspiring strange and wonderful feelings to brew inside of me. I would spend hours with eyes closed, daydreaming of impressions, of splashes of color, of worlds both known and unknown, while Bjӧrk cascaded throughout the background.

And then I got to Vulnicura. Don’t get me wrong, I loved some songs from that album too (“Lionsong,” “Notget” and “Family,” to name a few). But for the first time, no matter how many times I listened to some of the other songs off that album, I did not feel the same unrestrained, child-like love that I felt — and still feel for almost all of Bjӧrk’s other songs. I could not convince myself into the role of the giddy admirer. I could not dole my love out unconditionally.

At most, each time I replayed these songs, I felt a repulsively mature and unsettlingly adult part of myself rise up in me — some unwanted beast of sophistication and restraint — and watched helplessly as it formed my reactions into some vague, lukewarm sense of appreciation. If someone asked me what I thought about “Stonemilker” or “Quicksand” I would say, nebulously, that I liked them. That they were certainly interesting songs. That I appreciated them. And if someone asked me why I appreciated them, I would smile uneasily while grasping for buzzwords such as complex and emotional (though I felt no strong emotions myself).

Alas, this despicable appreciation word is how I also feel about Bjӧrk’s new single “The Gate.” After my first listen, I felt confused. Yet, knowing that most of Bjӧrk’s songs (barring a couple from Post and Homogenic) are confusing on the first listen, I repeated the song again. I was still optimistic. But by my 16th listen, I was desperate and I was frustrated and I still couldn’t use the love word. I wanted to, badly. In fact, the child within me was begging pitifully for me to have some emotional awakening to “The Gate.”

But, I only like it. I only appreciate it. It certainly is an interesting song. It is complex. It is emotional. (I am smiling uneasily).

As is standard for Bjӧrk, “The Gate” is unique. The closest resemblance is probably found on Vulnicura. It is reflective and experimental, subdued and minimalistic. Bjӧrk is serious and unmistakably matured. She is not singing about fountains of blood, tiny sparks (and a girl named Isobel), violent happiness, triumphant hearts or hidden places.

But, though it certainly possesses a subdued Vulnicura-esque quality, “The Gate” is not another sad, suffering song. Bjӧrk herself described the song “as essentially a love song, but… in a more transcendent way.” However, “The Gate” is not a love song in the same way “Like Someone in Love” is a love song. Bjӧrk’s heart is no longer littered with naïve charm and bliss. Hers is a heart that has been wounded by divorce and heartbreak, and has somehow recovered, albeit slowly and painfully. Hers is a heart with unhealable scars, as she observes in what I think is the most powerful line of the song: “Didn’t used to be so needy/ Just more broken than normal.” Her heart has risen up once more, though it is weighed down with past burdens. Nonetheless, her heart has risen.

But, I only like “The Gate”. Maybe I can only appreciate it because I cannot fathom the depths that Bjӧrk has resurfaced from. Maybe the child in me still craves the starry-eyed, carefree Bjӧrk. The strange, distinctive, relentlessly imaginative Bjӧrk. Whatever Bjӧrk’s heart brought up with it when it resurfaced from the murky realm of despair, I don’t think it brought up the carefree, sunny Bjӧrk with it.

Funny, it is, to think about a gate. Only some things are allowed to pass through.

Colton Poore is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at clp222@cornell.edu.

  • Bradley Solliday

    Wow! This article has confirmed my growing suspicion that the Daily Sun is going places it’s never been. The articles have been getting better and I’d have to say this is the best yet! I must say though, that I am trying to restrain my excitement because I doubt they’ll be topping this one any time soon. Keep up the good work!