Björk – Biophillia

Björk Guðmundsdóttir, better known simply as Björk, is that very rare thing – a commercially and critically successful recording artist who can’t be pigeonholed. She is truly unique. A one off.
From the minor success of the late 1980’s with The Sugarcubes to her latest solo album, this year’s Biophilia, she has consistently strived to move on and up and out in her artistic output. Be it the euro-poppy sensibilities of tracks like Violently Happy, the first single from 1993’s Debut, or trip-hop influenced songs such as Possibly Maybe and Enjoy from 1995’s Post (an album she describes as “musically promiscuous”), the icy beauty of 1997’s Homogenic, a truly beautiful album full of glitchy, groovy beats and delicious, multilayered string arrangements (courtesy of producers Howie B and LFO’s Mark Bell), or the all-vocal complexities of 2004’s Medúlla, Björk has continually sought to grow and expand her music.
She has incorporated a wide range of influences from her eclectic tastes and combined it with a visual tone that has been developed into something quite astounding with Biophilia; in fact it’s impossible to discuss Biophilia in musical terms alone as the project is much more than that. Much, much more.
I’ve always thought of Björk’s music as a beautiful entwining of the organic and the technological; sumptuous string arrangements and vibrant, innocent vocals flowing over and through almost awkward, glitch laden beats. On Biolphilia Björk embraces this theme of technology and nature to encompass “music, apps, internet, installations, and live shows”. This coalescence of the natural and the technological has resulted in the development of several new instruments designed to express that relationship to its fullest. The gameleste (a combination of a gamelan, an Indonesian melodic percussion instrument, and a celesta, a piano-like instrument that sounds similar to a glockenspiel though with a softer timbre) is used on a number of tracks while a Tesla Coil is employed to create tones for the sombre beauty of Thunderbolt.
Nature is also echoed in the song structures of Biophilia. Opening track Moon is infused with various musical cycles that echo lunar movements, Thunderbolt’s arpeggios represent the time between a lighting strike and a thunderclap. Soltice references the movement of the planets and the Earth’s rotation, with pendulums used as a nod to the Foucault Pendulum (a device named after French physicist Léon Foucault, also designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth), and Virus describes “fatal relationships” such as that between a virus and a cell.
Underpinning this reverence to nature are the choppy glitches and distorted beats we’ve come to expect from the Icelandic beauty. But, on this album, we’re also seeing her embrace a harder, darker techno-influenced sound on tracks like first single Crystalline (which has a breakcore influenced outro). Sacrifice and Mutual Core also recall the production values one would usually associate with producers like Aaron Funk or Tim Shaw, known by their respective stage names Venetian Snares and Tim Exile. It’s harder and edgier and more aggressive than we’ve ever heard Björk before. It’s an exciting progression that brings in and builds on her work on Medúlla in particular.
For all its conceptual artistry Biophilia is, at its core, a classic Björk album stacked with complexity and simplicity in equal measure. Perhaps it lacks the poppy tangibility of her earlier work and that may put off occasional listeners, but to those of us who crave for something original and artistic in this world of vocoded clothes horses constantly reproducing the same three and a half minutes of radio-friendly trash; Biophilia is the fix we’ve been waiting for.

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About Craig Furniss

After years of tormenting friends and relatives with his distilled movie fascism, wretched cinephile and armchair criticism, Craig Furniss, has finally decided to inflict his opinion on to the world at large. He tweets @Craig_Furniss