Bjork - Volta (Atlantic/Wea)
Keith Boyd 5.10.07
Bjork is one of those artists who exists and operates from within their own particular sphere of creativity and influence. She generates a sense of holistic integrity and presence by remaining true to her own muse and visions. From the outside we see an impish pixie with the twinkle in her eye of some eternally young yet ancient spirit. On the inside, who knows? The signifiers of image and sound she puts out into the media slipstream are lacking any deeper explanations. You simply encounter them and accept that what you are experiencing is the Technicolor road map of another's path through life and smile in appreciation. She seems to float in different waters than the rest of us. Of course there are parallels to any number of outside influences that one can discern in her music. Dance and Electronica are perhaps the most overt. Through her many and varied albums she's taken the beats and looping psychedelia of House music to heart. While working with producers from San Francisco 's avant-garde eletronica duo Matmos to Hip Hop point man Timbaland Bjork has spent many a year sculpting out a unique place in the music scene. The whirling, crunching and cracking of her music is often shot through with orchestral instrumentation and the sweeping melodic lines of Broadway musicals. The underpinning and defining element of all of her music is of course her voice. What a voice it is! At times heart breakingly ethereal, she can suddenly shift into a full tilt Arctic fury of grunts and growls. Bjork's voice has some timeless element to it that seduces the ear while capturing the imagination. It's often not so much the lyrics but her tonality that point towards meaning in her songs. In fact on her last outing, "Medulla" the songs were composed primarily of layer upon treated layer of nothing but her voice. This willingness to dive in and commit so deeply is all the more remarkable given the mass appeal and interest level Bjork generates. So where does all of this lead to when taking a listen to her new disc, " Volta "? It leads us back to where her music always leads us; herself.
While representing somewhat of a return to the more recognizable song structures of 1997's, "Homogenic" Volta manages to sound utterly contemporary. It drips with dense science fictional beats and odd squeals of fantastic noise. Songs like, "Earth Intruders" and "Declare Independence" are literally full to the point of bursting with webs of clattering sound. There is a wonderful exploration of dissonance here. Bjork has taken the contemporary electronic composer's (think Glass or Reich) ideas on drone, microtonality and jarring dissonance under the wing of her swan dress. These elements are stripped of their dry institutional aspect and pushed out on the dance floor to fend for themselves. How to describe this music? It's the sound of un-Rasta Reggae Dub given the full Barbarella makeover with Karlheinz Stockhausen firing up a helicopter engine as an instrument. Other standout tracks include the pounding anthemic, "Innocence" and the weirdo syncopated jazz of, "Vertebrae by Vertebrae".
I hope it's not too much of a stretch here to say that this disc is coming to you as highly recommended. We're so surrounded by pappy, imitative simulacra in this society that when something truly special comes along it's a cause for celebration. That something special is Bjork with her freaked out, yet totally right on, visionary sound world. Do yourself a favor, pop this disc in the player, paint yourself purple and dance around your darkened house naked. Your neighbors might not understand what's going on but you'll be too busy smiling the while time.