REVIEW: Bjork, Volta, Atlantic

Posted May 7th, 2007 by eric

Restoring the beats to her arsenal, Bjork returns to her quirky, dance-oriented roots on her sixth studio album, Volta. On the experimental, conceptual Medulla, Bjork was at her most extravagantly indulgent, eschewing any semblance of commerciality in favor of the blissful sound of her own voice. Bjork literally built that record around her voice, as all samples and rhythms were created using only vocals. It’s her inimitable trait- the one thing that separates her from any other artist. No one sounds like Bjork, and she knows it. So, making an album showcasing your one true defining characteristic doesn’t seem too ostentatious.

And yet Medulla suffered from a lack of connection. It was art as art, not as a bridge. It was a one trick pony whose novelty wears thinly with age. The one thing about Bjork’s music that has always been consistent is that she lines her machinated pulses with more emotion and passion than anyone else in the game. Even though electronic music is almost always characterized as cold and distant, Bjork’s music has always been affecting and warm, joyous even. And Volta celebrates those traits better than any album she’s released since 1997’s Homogenic.

On paper, Volta looks to be a case of trying too hard, as Bjork teams up with a diverse lot of contributors. First and foremost is production mastermind, Timbaland, whose hip-hop tendencies would seem to clutter Bjork’s vision, but his skills work well in this context. The opener and first single, “Earth Intruders”, is a hasty spray of tribalistic fury. Bjork’s eccentric cadence rides atop the polyrhythms with girlish charm. “Wanderlust” is the type of desperate, sweeping drama that Bjork does best, riding the gap between her innate pop sensibilities and her experimental drive. Another collaboration that I honestly thought would bomb is with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. And yet “The Dull Flame of Desire” is one of the most affecting songs Bjork has ever recorded. Hegarty’s womanly vibrato surprisingly compliments Bjork’s idiosyncratic inflection.

The harsh, pulsing jabs in “Innocence” are courtesy of Timbaland again, and they mean something beyond their innately rhythmic functionality. The beats lend emphasis to Bjork’s scraggy poetry. Bjork skips through genres without worrying about losing the listener. Her charm is the glue that holds it all together. A lesser singer, or, perhaps, one with less personality or panache could get lost in such stylistic leaps, but Bjork revels in the shape-shifting. Her impetuousness shines on “Declare Independence”- a brassy, discordant call to arms that sounds absolutely scalding next to the jazzy warmth of “Pneumonia” or the delicate lullaby, “My Juvenile”- another effective duet with Antony Hegarty.

If you don’t like Bjork’s voice, you couldn’t possibly enjoy her music. Her guttural growls are too peculiar to appreciate half-heartedly. On the other end, if you have ever fallen under the spell of Bjork’s voice, chances are you’d listen to her sing anything. Luckily, Bjork doesn’t rest on the laurels of her powerful voice. She pushes herself on every record. It may be too early to say whether Bjork has passed is the apex her career, but Volta is certainly a chapter as important as any other.

Tags: album-review