My Review of Björk's 'Volta'

I have a review of Björk’s new album up on CampusProgress.org. Check it out:

Dozens of critics, from the Associated Press to Yeshiva University’s The Commentator to the New Straits Times in Malaysia, have described Björk or her music as “other-worldly.” With the opening track of Volta, she comes right out and admits it: “We are the Earth intruders; we are the sharp-shooters.” Great. Not only is she an alien, she’s a sniper. We’re all screwed.

But Volta, Björk’s seventh wide-release album and her first since 2004’s a cappella creation Medúlla, is decidedly Earth-bound. Despite the lyrical theme of “Earth Intruders,” the brutal backbeat of “Innocence,” and the Aphex Twin-style scream-fest “Declare Independence,” most of the album is intimate and cinematic in the tradition of Selmasongs, the 2000 soundtrack for “Dancer in the Dark,” which starred Björk herself.

The tracks that make up the balance of the album are indeed the earthiest sounds we’ve ever heard from Björk. The second track “Wanderlust” begins with an intricately constructed nighttime harbor scene. Any seventh grade band teacher would recognize the sound of fascinated horn players discovering just how low their instruments can play—and how much they sound like fog horns. The sound gets more and more ethereal until it picks up into the soaring, driving sounds familiar to Björk fans. Before the song is over, it falls to bits among a rainstorm of Morse code.

Björk’s goal with Volta may be to bring together the disparate sounds from throughout her long career. Debut made use of 1993’s latest in synthesizers and digital sequencing (“Human Behavior” contains an unmistakable element of the Korg Wavestation), but the album still sounded like a woman, if an exceedingly interesting woman, singing. Post (1995) contained a cabaret-style treatment in “It’s Oh So Quiet,” among heavy industrical sounds. Homogenic (1997) and Vespertine (2001) were perhaps the most “other-worldly” of her releases. And the vocal textures of Medúlla seemed to argue that humans could be just about as weird as any alien. Individual songs on Volta seem to have loyalties spread throughout these 15 years of musical development.

If anything, by combining her most extra terrestrial sounds to date with vivid representations of familiar musical elements and natural sound-scapes, Björk reminds us that even humanity’s best efforts at imagination are made by us. Even an other-worldly pop star is a real person, a working musician.
Indeed, the most alien sounds on this album were created in collaboration with one of pop’s most prominent producers. If “Innocence” has a beat that recalls Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” (and it does), that’s because Timbaland produced both tracks. (He also produced “Earth Intruders” and the quiet highlight of the album, “Hope.”)

Ultimately, like almost everything Björk touches, Volta is jarring at first but becomes addictive soon after. And hopefully, once and for all, this journalistic slurring of her as an alien will come to an end. Near the end of the record, she chants, “Declare independence! Don’t let them do that to you,” deriding the “damn colonists”—or is it “columnists.” You show ‘em!

—Graham Webster

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