Album: Bjork – “Medulla” (2004)

Oh me oh my, forget working the weekend, I think I needed extra time to build up to reviewing this. It’s a shame, it’s VERGING on good and shows some real promise from its concept of (mostly) only using human voices for all the noises. But then other times it just goes totally off into crazy land, and suddenly you want to air-drop crates of lozenges on Iceland. Let’s just get through this, it’s just a WARM-UP for the horrors yet to come in this back catalogue.

08 Pleasure is all mine – What an appropriate title for the opening track for this album! OK that’s harsh, this isn’t a bad opener really. There are spooky ghost choirs, a slow creeping menace of a beat. She’s even singing a tune, who’d have thought we’d live to see this day again?! Actually this is quite nice, it does raise a few eyebrows with the Tazmanian Devil woman grunting away in the background. The climax with the choir is really quite glorious, well done everyone. Shame someone left the gate open and let the Devil woman in, she sounds like she’s injured, or needs to be taken out for a walk or something. Have some humanity!

07 Show me forgiveness
– Pretty much an interlude, totally acapella too. It’s alright but feels a bit unnecessary. She’s making a bit of a meal of the vocals, and makes it sound rather forced for a melody that’s all over the place.

08 Where is the line – OK let’s get the crazy going now, this time with a rather ear-molesting beatbox onslaught. That’s the weak line here, the song itself is full of purpose and drama. It does need some harsh percussion to set against the choral bits, it would be all a bit Vespertine without the beat. It’s just a bit weird, especially when it goes all swirly halfway through. Not crazy about the singing-into-a-fan moments either, it does turn the latter half of this into a bit of a racket. Shame really, it’s one of the more standout moments. Could easily have been a 9 with some tweaks (I do love that Space Invaders segment near the end), but it really needs polishing up.

09 Vökuró – Considering how much she embraces her heritages, it feels like we only very rarely get Icelandic language in her albums. It’s not like she’s worried about her music not being commericial really, if we’re honest. It’s an interesting language to listen to, I love those Nordic rolls of the tongue and strange syllables. It’s almost like a hymn, and that choral section goes a grand job as they usually do. This is great, it doesn’t always have to be high concept, and gives a really spine-tingling pause from the madness of the rest of the album.

04 Öll Birtan – HALLL. HALLL. HALLL. UGH! What a mess, everyone’s talking over each other. No tune, just monotonous drone. Thank God it’s just an interlude. STOP YELLING AT ME. Then it’s over. HALLL. HALLL. HALLL. OH SHUT UP!!

09 Who is it – Oh God, what’s the matter now? Are you trying to explode my head?? After that mini-migraine, we are on one of the few moments it was possible to release as a single. The bell-heavy single remix was really lovely, I must dig that out. This is a really nice song and a great display of this album’s concept used for good instead of headache-inducing evil. It even has a usual song structure, I must be dreaming. That beatbox fits perfectly, the tune (as well as simply existing) is catchy and endearing. A success all round I think!

02 Submarine
– Oh NO NO NO. It’s all gone wrong, and annoying me so much. I don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s on the Starship Enterprise. Spouting drivel, that “Do it nooooowwwww” is the worst kind of annoying drone, worse than even the most annoying child. It’s like the dying cat parade. Is someone just making that insane rubbing-a-finger-back-and-forth-on-their-lips noise? After Bjork eventually arrives after 1:30 of HELL, her vocals are quite BIG and welcome, but short-lived. I HATE THIS.

09 Desired Constellation – God, talk about a mixed bag, my ratings are flipping so much I’m getting whiplash. I love that lo-fi version of Vespertine they are using for production on here. The title and the production just set a blissful scene of clear Icelandic nights full of stars, quite isolated and pretty. Bjork’s not having such a good time though, messing up a relationship by the sounds of it. It’s very emotively done, and feels like a real moment with her that I don’t feel like I’ve had for a while, perhaps not since Post. Very nice.

07 Oceania – Oh god, who thought THIS was a good idea to open the Athens olympics?! Insane! The first buzz single from this project, even has a promo version with Kelis on it trying to make sense of what the hell was going on. The lyrics really are 50/50, sometimes intriguing and I get it, but otherwise just nonsense (every boy is a snake is a lily, every pearl is a lynx is a girl!?). Is mother ocean trying to say all land-lubbers all look the same? RACIST! I like the idea of this ocean entity singing this from her perspective (You see continents, I see islands… You count the centuries, I blink my eyes). It’s all sort of good, but somehow a bit lost in the execution. Not that this is an unfamiliar feeling for me by this point… The odd shrieks are a bit unnerving, but I like the beat (I don’t know about these things so I might bluff and call it Bossa Nova because that sounds good).

05 Sonnets/Unrealities XI – What an accessible title! THAT WAS SARCASM! Something about this rubs me up the wrong way, I think it’s how the “and I say, and if your lips, which I have loved, should touch another’s” bits are so oddly structured, it just sounds like she’s making it up as she goes along. I’m glad this song disappears up its own backside once we reach the 2-minute mark. There are glimpses of good stuff here, but they are few and far between.

07 Ancestors – Oh LORD, this is the moment we descend into the pit and she gives us her worst. It’s almost endearing as a ridiculous spectacle, that mental throat singer has given me a smile on many occasions. I’m somehow still surprised every time I hear it. First it sounds like she’s either in labour or having sex. Until she starts hyperventilating, give the woman a paper bag, the poor dear. This is all while Bjork is just making blah noises against a nondescript piano soundbed. Oh no, asthma lady is having a relapse! DEAR GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH HER? Does she have a collapsed lung? Is she turning into a werewolf? Who can say? Perhaps a horny Jack Russell is shagging her leg. BLEEUURRRGHHH!!! BLEURRRRGHHHH!!! What the hell am I listening to? The were-Rolf is humanna-humanna-ing now, I am not sure if I should call an air ambulance or the RSPCA. PHEW! What a RIDE! 7 for entertainment value alone, just as well because that was utter ROT!

06 Mouth’s Cradle – Bleep bloop, is someone making that noise or is it a computer? We are assaulted by odd babyish noises, and Bjork on backing in what seems like some sort of temporal anomoly. Once the choir gets back in from their ciggy break, the song get some semblance of structure. It’s sort of alright, but again what a mess. Tazmanian Devil is back skulking in the distance, stay away! Anything sounds relatively listenable after Ancestors, but this varies in listenability. The chorus (?) near the end (“You can use those teeth as a ladder up to the mouth’s cradle”) is quite good, it almost sounds like a real song for a while.

05 Miðvikudags
– Another unpronounceable interlude. Nice-ish noises, but that’s pretty much all there is, it’s hard to believe it’s actually several people’s jobs to make things like this for a living. There’s that TOO TOO noise from the start as well. Baffling.

10 Triumph of the heart – Finally, a stone cold amazing moment, it only took 40 minutes of ordeal to get there. Beatbox is back, so’s the choir, so are other strange sound effects. But a great beat, leading into a wonderful chorus. Maybe my rating is warped by my experiences during the rest of this album, but it feels to me like an actual commerical moment escaping from the jaws of this hellish trauma of an album. The video is wonderful too, really love that, you even get a little kitty mewing in the chorus, MEW! MEW! MEW!. Thank god we are ending on a high note. A bit of a strange song to have tacked on the end though, do I detect some record company influence here?

Wow… well if I was a little bored during Vespertine’s latter half, this is certainly a case of “Be careful what you wish for”. While it is certainly an interesting listen, you really need an open mind to even begin with it. Now I would say I am reasonably open, but as this review shows, clearly not open ENOUGH. Some moments really stick out as flashes of inspiration through a concept album that really shouldn’t have needed to be such a tough sell. Other moments stand out for all the wrong reasons. In this case I must wonder if the payouts were worth the bad times… Still, I am sort of fond of this album, I haven’t quite re-captured the way I felt for it when it first came out, but at least it hasn’t aged in any discernible way. Probably because it wasn’t created on Earth time, I think it was just found inside a meteorite somewhere.

Keepers for the iPod
: Pleasure is all mine, Vökuró, Who is it, Desired Constellation, Triumph of a heart

Up next: Drawing Restraint 9 (2005)
– nice knowing you all…


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