Björk

Björk (1977)

björk

Ten “songs” of which include three by the eleven-year-old, two by some other Icelandic hero (less famous than she, probably back then too), one by her stepfather that includes the words “I love him” (not for himself… we hope, for his sake, and ours), one by Stevie Wonder and one by The Beatles.

In their more juvenile (literally) form, the “instrumentation” in the covers sound like they did originally, and even if she’s attempting to channel Kraftwerk, blues, funk, the Middle East, or her post-punk self in later years with The Sugarcubes, the cuteness of this record wears off quickly when you realise it’s an eleven-year-old girl that resembles the smart-ass child with her hand up in the front of class all day, though the recorder and Celtic ambience of “Jóhannes Kjarval” is quite quaint.

The technical prowess is plain to see at such a young age, even if the vocal tones and pitches are teeth-grinding at times. I know she’s eleven, Christ, but polyrhythms, Jackson 5 and Shirley Temple-ism won’t entice Óliver. (C-)

 


Debut (1993)

debut

I know what this record is attempting to be – a conglomerate of everything she likes – and I know what this record is – a conglomerate of everything she likes, but doesn’t know… yet – the gimmicky electronics shield what could’ve been a rather ethereal effort, because she’s always enchanting.

When I discovered “Human Behaviour” was the “animal’s point of view on humans”, I found it rather more platonic, and when I found out “There’s More to Life Than This” was recorded in a bar’s jacks in London, I found it rather more disturbing. Her credulous nature towards her influences from the UK acid house scene are too obvious, though authentic in small bursts (“Violently Happy”).

The jazz bits offer nothing even when stripped from the electronics, and if you wish to be suffocated and surfeited with lyrics of unfulfilled love and pain – which is never all bad – here you go.

The funky listenable bits are just that and her ersatz poetry is sometimes real poetry if you hang in there, but not giving your influences time to grow and expand will result in what most of this record is – a muddled and confused persona. She said it herself. (B-)

 


Post (1995)

post

My headphones saved my life too, Björk, but not listening to that finale. What I enjoy most about this, like all of her records and maybe herself, is its erratic subtlety. Her fetish with 808 State is dwindling, and for the better as her electronic smarts can now breath.

Believe me I do like it but her self-absorbed lyricism is trite and trying at times, and even if she felt like jumping off that cliff I wouldn’t believe her, not that she wouldn’t, but she feels she has more to say, and I’d go along with that – “Possibly Maybe” is as simple and as well put as a song can be and early New Order is well evident in tracks such as “Hyberballad” and “I Miss You”, even without the imposed “goth”. Her collaboration with PJ Harvey at the BRIT Awards the year before may have stemmed the inspiration for the opener’s independent stance over the usual lovelorn locutions, but what separates PJ from the Icelander is the Brit is happy either way – you just knew we were quickly hopping back into the chagrin of unrequited relationships.

When her attempts at being the cherub are sprawled across a track I don’t think I want it, I prefer the sporadic vocals, but maybe not in that big band cover. If her desperate plea to the listener to take on board her onerous desire to be “pure Western pop culture” isn’t heard as of yet, maybe we should be listening harder.

The subtle electronics are respite from Debut‘s over-elaborate trance and house distortions, and her sexual nuances occasionally take over those electronic surrounds, which is no harm. I wouldn’t mind a guitar. The Sugarcubes were okay at that. (B)

 


Homogenic (1997)

homogenic

Well this record is apparently more of her home Iceland, whatever that is – she thinks she can organise freedom, we knew that all along, but this time it’s matched with a more vigorous attempt at being her own; she’s the hunter, the bachelorette, the world doesn’t scare her.

She does unravel occasionally, it wouldn’t be her otherwise and I can see why; that being said, the overall landscape of this album is beautifully put together, swivelling around the vocals which are far more pronounced and projected, not physically but, perhaps, spiritually – this is down to the production – the string arrangements work wonders with the electronics and the more constructed drum ‘n’ bass backdrops carry her tone and that projection serenely.

I still think her less opaque lyrics work better than say “The cocoon surrounds you/Embraces all/So you can sleep/Fetus-style”, I know if I sat down long enough I’d get it, I’m a busy man, however. Vulnerability is rife in music but I always have an affection towards it when the artist can tell us why he/she’s laying it on the line – cue “Immature”. We still have to put up with “I want to go on a mountain-top/With a radio and good batteries/And play a joyous tune/And free the human race” but fortunately the beats save that one.

She’s superficially sick of cowards yet unravelling at her and her coward’s love being collected by the devil, never to be returned. Where is this coward by the way? (A-)

 


Vespertine (2001)

vespertine

Somewhere between platonically itchy and extremely playful, Björk’s “introvert” character strides in simpatico with the experimental electronics and glitchy backdrops. Unlike the extrovert hunter and occasionally fearless persona of HomogenicVespertine‘s lyrical sensuality showcases our lady’s sense of the sexually unknown and the chilling surrounds of the innocence of that introvert.

The lyrics mean more, simply you wouldn’t need the beats all too often, but her experimental guise only entices you to swallow up those high notes with some sort of blizzard-like church choir or whirling string arrangements. However, the second half takes a nosedive lyrically and doesn’t incorporate enough of the electronica to keep it airborne, though it crossed the finish line quite nicely.

Euphoric is what I got, even in the winter atmosphere and the fearful caresses of erotic human nature – just look at the album cover.

It’s not getting stuck in, it’s foreplay, in the most erotic of surrounds, though I’d like a little more of the “upbeat” beats in my second half. (A-)

 


Medúlla (2004)

medúlla

You have to give this record its just deserts for the simple fact the minimalistic platform it’s inhabited could only lend itself to a disaster, and I thought it was lining itself up for that initially until “Where Is the Line?” crossed the line and slapped me right in the face.

The beatboxing doesn’t even feel like it outruns her vocals when it actually does, and these choirs, keep ’em coming. A cappella in its near entirety, the likes of “Submarine” should crash and burn, but then you realise this oddity has barbershop harmonies and hip-hop throat singing in the electronic arsenal. Give it a chance, she dares you to listen.

When you break it down it is just bizarre, and maybe too much, but it needed to be just that. (A-)

 


Volta (2007)

volta

Enclosed in her winter trepidation is far more alluring than being immured in her “fun”, which apparently this is. “I have lost my origin/And I don’t want to find it again”, I don’t think so, I can hear a squeeze, just a squeeze, of early beats fluttered about when the orchestra isn’t around.

I didn’t think I’d ever come across a record wherein I found her voice grating, the beats aren’t there enough to fill the different pitches, and if you’re going to throw a message at us like “Don’t let them do that to you!” why is Timbaland throwing his Nelly Furtado at you (“Innocence”)? High on the conceit of her national identity and the usual “I” at the beginning of every lyric, I’m not sure the orchestral surrounds help to shield the faux pas of such declarations.

The orchestra works when she’s setting a scene – pouncing animalistic expression (“Vertebrae By Vertebrae”) or a weary love letter (“The Dull Flame of Desire”) – but her more experimental approach worked nicely in tandem with her eccentric attitude, which in turn covered up some of the vapid humanitarianism.

If “Declare Independence” is the counter-attack for “Earth Intruders” then you shouldn’t have made the latter the “best” song on the record. (C+)

 


Biophilia (2011)

biophilia

This “app album” concept is merely a concept in the technological scheme of things, the music is – as far as electronic experimentation goes – as natural as ever. That being said, 16bit’s dubstep lacerations stain the flow of nature, technology and music in its most ethereal of auras, but doesn’t get in the way of the overall journey through dilettante cosmology.

The backing vocals and choirs add so much, as per usual, and if the forceful voice in the chorus of “Crystalline” doesn’t grab you then this album has missed you, which I don’t blame in the slightest to be frank. I mentioned previously I wouldn’t mind a guitar, but she doesn’t play “conventional instruments” meaning “Sacrifice” may be as close as I get to a guitar noise; if that’s the case I’m fine with it. Where previously she was obsessed with saving the world through love and humanitarian lyrical aid, she’s now diving into how it’s made up – maybe she should’ve began here.

“Your generosity will show/In the volume of her glow”, that’s a nice one – even nicer if you point it at world/planet preservation. This lady is obviously an eccentric but a very human one wherein her android doesn’t even lose its existentialism.

Iceland might have leaped out of the financial crash quicker if 16bit added more “Mutual Core” drum ‘n’ bass – then I’d be a happy little boy, very happy. Alas, we get “Hollow” hollowness, and some hollow pockets. (A-)

 


Vulnicura (2015)

vulnicura

It’s been announced quite recently she won’t be performing Vulnicura live any longer, for its intense/[lack of] catharsis through emotional expression is too much to handle. Not drowning in an ocean of self-pity like past breakup records more illustrating the aftermath of the struggle with that ocean, whether she survived it or not.

The classic strings that “keep her mind busy” in the opener are as emotional as she’s ever been, and not only this it’s purely at a musical level – the production matches the lyrics and the voice much like the surrounds of Homogenic and Vespertine. The beats of “Black Lake” are remorseful and she even drags the family into the equation portraying more at an artistic level how much her current epoch is taking hold. Even at this it can get monotonous when you’re dealing with someone as technologically advanced as her; it may come across as quasi-emotional for her lack of “traditional instrumentation” may guard from “traditional means” of musical emotion. However, the classical ambience merged with the technology works a treat – it feels like a theatrical performance.

The second side is let down by a brain-dead finish that did quickly sink, but in its melancholic state this record flows beautifully never veering from its central theme which some of her records did previously.

This album is as human as she’s ever been… actually it is. Halting it from the echelons of the mountain-top grades is its slight lyrical monotony even in its very strong theme that holds just as well or better than her albums in the middle of her discography. (A-)

 


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