Björk : Volta

björk volta review

If you’re just counting actual studio albums, it’s been roughly three years between each Björk album. But since the shape-shifting Icelandic artist was never one for convention, we’ve never really been without her music for that long of a period of time. Soundtracks, live and remix albums helped fill in the gaps and alleviating our jones for the unique voice that is Björk. But Volta is indeed her sixth studio album. If you’re looking for something to compare this album to, simply look at the cover. While Debut, Homogenic, Vespertine and Medulla featured muted blacks, whites, greys and silvers, Post and Volta have vibrant colors that reveal the fun atmospheres within. Don’t ask me why she looks like a pop-art pear, I don’t know. But Volta is, in my opinion, Björk’s best album since Post, getting her back to the dance-y side of pop, while also continuing to explore and tread new musical ground.

“Earth Intruders,” the first song and debut single from Volta, finds sisters in the songs “Human Behavior” and “Army of Me.” In fact, it’s somewhat a hybrid of the two, depicting a tale of nature’s revenge upon the people of the earth, twigs and branches forming a beast cuts a savage swath throughout the land. For those of you more nerdly inclined, it’s like the Ents attacking Orthanc. Timbaland’s beats provide the requisite earthbound primitive baseness to the song. Sounds of the sea interconnect one song to the next, in this case the next being “Wanderlust,” a song that has many similarities to tracks on Debut. “The Dull Flame of Desire,” a duet with Antony, reminds me of the muted, rolling musical landscapes of Homogenic thanks to the droning brass section, and is definitely one of the standout tracks. These are two unique voices coming together in a beautiful track with lyrics taken from a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev. Brian Chippendale, the drummer from Lightning Bolt begins his steady, throbbing beat at about two minutes in, urging the listener to keep up the march. If this sounds tedious, remember, it’s called the ‘dull’ flame of desire. Everything Björk does has meaning.

“Innocence” is another story altogether, being the second track with beats by Timbaland, and it’s pretty easy to spot. I kept waiting for a chorus by Missy Elliott. The song is again a throwback to her first two albums, being somewhat of a companion piece to “Big Time Sensuality” in lyrical theme. This song and it’s infectious chorus seem to tell the world who the real dance diva is, and to forget all of the imitators. “I See Who You Are” features those strange combinations of sounds that make Björk so original. Asian string sounds and keyboards that resemble wind chimes make up a subtle backdrop for her stirring voice and words of love, sex and death. In that way it reminds me slightly of both “Hyper-Ballad” and “Violently Happy.” “Vertebrae by Vertebrae” starts like the James Bond Theme, and really could be the opening track for the next Daniel Craig Bond film. The brass section seems to be ever present throughout the album, making me think that while Medulla will be the `voices’ album and Homogenic the ‘strings’ album, Volta will probably be known as the `brass’ album.

“Pneumonia” starts a string of songs that are from deep within Björk’s conscience. Heavy topics are dealt with in the last few tracks, including sorrow and isolationism, suicide bombings, freedom and independence, and her children. “Declare Independence” and “My Juvenile,” the last two tracks are particular standouts, with the former having a punk vibe she’s never really exhibited before (at least during her solo career), finding her breathing fire with every spoken line. It’s Björk’s most aggressive song to date, and the assertion fits her well. Iceland is known as a very independent country, possibly the source of the song’s spirit, as they are very protective of their people, their culture and language. “My Juvenile” is a more understated song, stripped down to simply a clavichord and the voices of Björk and Antony, singing about her son. The lyrics are heartbreaking as she continually sends ‘warmth’ to her young child, fearing that she let him grow up too fast.

Upon hearing the first pounding rhythms of “Earth Intruders,” I knew that Björk was back with a vengeance. Nothing used to pump me up like an opening song from one of her early albums, and nothing would make me feel warmer than one of her stripped down ballads, highlighting her incredible voice. Within the space of the first few minutes, my fears were allayed. We always worry that our favorite artists will somehow diminish over time, the quality of their music decrease as it has so many times with so many musicians. Not so with our favorite Icelandic pixie as she continually proves us wrong, at least every three years and at various times in between. In fact, Björk seems frozen in time, her voice still the same, still as powerful and lovely as ever.

Label: Atlantic

Year: 2007

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