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Album Review

by Bjork


Review Date
11th October 2011
Reviewed by
Justin Paul

Many of us first heard Bjork on 1993’s ‘Human Behaviour’, a song that could have been an alien’s guide to the vagaries of humankind. The song served as a symbolic introduction to the world of Bjork: we imagine her equally at home on Earth or in outer space. Appropriately, nearly twenty years later, her latest opus, Biophilia, opens with ‘Moon’ and ends with ‘Solstice’: since the dawn of time, the moon has represented femininity, emotion, mystery, the ever-changing and madness. To many listeners, Bjork’s music is as distant and inscrutable as the moon, but for those who have been unable to resist the force of her pull, she continues to fascinate and to glow.

Contradiction has been a cornerstone of Bjork’s career, but Biophilia is the product of her desire to combine polar opposites to create the impossible. This album is the culmination of a wish to make music three-dimensional. In a recent interview with DrownedinSound, Bjork explained her synesthetic vision, how she “sees rhythms and chords and scales”, and while much has been made of Bjork’s collaboration with Apple and the iPad, – she has long been a fierce independent - the truth is that these tools have finally enabled her to make music tactile. Bjork wanted listeners to interact and collaborate with her: through the apps, one changes chords, learns scales and builds versions of the original songs. But in many ways, this should come as no surprise; Bjork has long had her finger on the electronic pulse. The multimedia gadgetry, however, is a mere sideshow to Biophilia’s more serious, and dare I say, philosophical purpose.

Biophilia apparently means ‘an innate love of life and the living world’, so while the album highlights Bjork’s fascination with technology, she also revels in Nature and explores the pressing question of how science and the natural world can co-exist. She even enlists Father Nature himself, Sir David Attenborough, to introduce ‘listeners’ to the Biophilia app. Science is the demystification of Nature, but Bjork is never guilty of ‘unweaving the rainbow’, as Keats said of Newton: she embraces both and puts each in the service of the other. So for every bleep from Soundrop or ReacTable, we have brass blasts, a 24-woman choir, a pipe-organ… plus a sharpsichord (a ten-foot barrel harp) and a gameleste. As a further symbol of her invention, Bjork combines the ancient gamelan and celeste: she thinks nothing of the dichotomy of electronic and primitive, acoustic instruments. She even harnesses science and nature to create instruments from gravity and electricity: there is a pendulum-harp and a huge tesla coil crackles throughout ‘Thunderbolt’. The scope of the project is literally incredible (a quick look at these instruments on YouTube might help). It is easy to become dazzled by such ambition (blinded by her science, if you will), but what the hell does it sound like?

You could almost forgive Biophilia if it was crushed by its own gravity. But with ‘Moon’, which sounds like the birth of stars, and ‘Thunderbolt’, the listener is struck by a sense of space: Bjork allows her unique voice and bizarre instruments room to breathe. First single ‘Crystalline’ is the most radio-friendly track here – the drum and bass explosion at the end is beyond analysis: somehow, it works. ‘Dark Matter’ stars some inter-galactic Sirens with perhaps the most beautiful and ethereal harmonies you are likely to hear this year while ‘Hollow’ seems like an aria from some bizarre electropera. ‘Virus’ is a sweet, bubbling ballad that shames the jarring ‘Sacrifice’, but the eruption of ‘Mutual Core’, in which a thunderous techno beat and a pipe organ play side by side, is the album’s late highlight.

Looking back on these words, I feel more than a little embarrassed, but Bjork invites hyperbole and metaphor. Nor is objectivity an option, so I may as well continue…There is no shortage of beauty on Biophilia, but some will argue that Bjork has her head buried too deep in her concept and has lost sight of her pop heart; that there is not enough human behaviour. Those people would be wrong. Bjork is not merely ahead of other musicians, she is in orbit thousands of miles above them, elliptical and benign, exerting an influence that science cannot explain away. We need Bjork, if only to remind us that, like space, the human imagination is boundless.


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