Album: Bjork – “Biophilia” (2011)

As Winter closes its icy grip on the year, I can at least be warmed by the fact that I am finally free of the horrors that constitute the last decade of Bjork’s recorded output. Only the most hardened fans and the contrary Marys will have had much enthusiasm left for Bjork’s latest studio album, given the delights we’ve endured from Volta, Drawing Restraint 9 and Medulla, but it still came.

Or it sort of did, it was unveiled as the first ever “App album”, releasing each song as an interactive app (paid, of course), where you can presumably do a sudoku and a slide puzzle and try to unlock the tune that was removed from the final track. Very modern and wanky, and I don’t care, just give me the CD already so we can move on with our lives.

05 Moon – Plinky-plonky-plink, this is alarmingly normal an intro. Oh wait, she’s singing (just about). What is she wittering on about this time? Putting pearls in their mouths and rinsing out the fear? It was silly for me to expect anything else really. The backdrop is surprisingly acoustic in feel, the low harp notes are quite nondescript, which is a shame because I was relying on them to distract me from the nonsense she’s singing. Good start!

07 Thunderbolt – Has she lost the ability to speak English these days? She’s picked up (or worsened) this very affected accent now, makes it quite difficult not to get annoyed by it. At least this doesn’t sound too bad, a bit dull for something as exciting-sounding as a thunderbolt. This is a bit more tuneful, reminiscent (like most of her good stuff) of her older work, with some new synthy-sounding beeps. I can’t imagine for a second it’s a keyboard of any form, probably a car battery hooked up to a modem with tinsel. It gets quite sweeping and nice in the middle, but it’s not exactly a toe-tapper. Am I being stupid for even considering this possibility? The modem malfunctions at the end, in some rather fart electro noises, at least I’m listening, even if it sounds like a printer jam.

06 Crystalline – It’s hard to imagine Bjork occupies the same world as us now, with silly ideas like singles. After all, what radio station would play it these days? She has hired a chimp to hit a xylophone tunelessly while she sings a tune, while an automated production line provides the beat. It sounds like an offshoot from Vespertine but doesn’t have any of the atmosphere to it, disappointing. Did she scare off that nice human choir she used to use? I don’t mean scary beast woman, they probably had to put that rabid menace down years ago. WTF at the beat-machine spazzout at the end, like a shopping trolley down the stairs. At what point did she think this song needed a noisy drum’n’bass outro?!

08 Cosmogony – Ooh is that the choir oohing in the background? Finally a nice easy listen, discussing the birth of the universe. Sort of. Let’s just steer clear of discussing gods inside eggs and focus on the positives. For a hokey load of nonsense, it’s quite a nice tune, with a verse-chorus structure, I didn’t really believe I’d ever hear the like on a Bjork album again. Vaguely pleasant for the most part. But let’s not push it. The nice feel is slightly marred by the ghosts descending on us for the last minute, what a downer.

01 Dark Matter – Helpfully described on Wikipedia as follows: “The lyrics also present metaphors to those phenomena. “Dark Matter” features heavy gibberish since the dark matter phenomena are directly “unexplainable”. I knew it! She’s just making it up as she goes along! Well this is just about as crap as you can imagine, she’s seemingly drugged a church organist and we are waiting for the poison to finally claim them, falling into eternal slumber on the keyboard. OOhhh-Woooooo-tooooo… DEAR GOD WHY DO YOU HATE MY EARS BJORK?

02 Hollow – You know a song’s going to be good when it sounds like a robot having a diarrhoea attach down a didgeridoo, whilst on a funfair carousel. Sorry to paste from Wikipedia again, but here, “Björk took inspiration from her “ancestors and DNA, that the grounds open below you and you can feel your mother and her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother 30,000 years back. So suddenly you’re this kinda tunnel, or trunk of DNA… All these ghosts come up so it ended up being a Halloween song and quite gothic in a way… It’s like being part of this everlasting necklace when you’re just a bead on a chain and you sort of want to belong and be a part of it and it’s just like a miracle.””. Total bollocks! The ravings of either a madwoman or a toddler. The song’s shuns any thought of a tune, and so we get some creepy vocals, and some manic stabbing at a pipe organ. Horrific! I’ll only give it as much as a 2 because imagining a robot having a shit in a musical instrument is a fun diversion.

08 Virus – Some rather lovely instrumentation now, that chimp has got the hang of percussion and has moved onto the more difficult Glockenspiel (or a load of glasses, I can’t tell). It’s quite a gentle song, with some nice melodic moments. I won’t get too attached to them though. The harmonies are a bit of a din, but generally it’s a pleasant listen. I can even get the gist that it’s about destructive relationships, she has actually communicated a message through music! Praise be!

06 Sacrifice – A bit of a morose rhythm played by what sounds like a faulty boiler, but again we’ve got a bit of a tune going on. It’s a bit of a nonevent until the beat kicks in, a bit of a rapid-fire peppering of noise but it ups the ante for a short while. I don’t know what bizarre instrument is being used here, but it’s quite distinctive (yeah, as a faulty boiler), and not a bad way particularly. Difficult to get excited by it all though.

05 Mutual core – This has an odd tone to it, like an old sea shanty or something. There is a tune at work here, but it’s a bit of a meandering mess. It does switch up halfway through, the rockets fire up and it morphs into a noisy electroclash headache for about 30 seconds, before the sea shanty fades back in. It’s memorable enough but it’s just a gloopy mess of nothing.

03 Solstice – Plinky plonky harp again to bring us full circle. I remember when she used to do some things like this on her older albums, but the songs had tune and heart, and weren’t just dithering borefests like this. I pick up a recognisable word here and there, but that’s it. Is that it? Is that what this woman is going to do for the rest of her life? Decline into nonsense dressed up as artistic expression? If so, then I really need to cut my ties already.

At this point, I had been carrying listening to tracks 11-15. Only my friend who provided me with the album said “Oh I didn’t say, this is the deluxe album, the last 5 tracks are just bonuses!”. The crying shame is that some of them are better than the actual album tracks!

We are treated to the full 7-minute version of Hollow, lucky us! NO! And even better, a new version of Dark Matter! So my two least favourites from the album, and in contention for the worst tracks I’ve ever heard from her. You are spoiling us! And while Dark Matter might be salvaged up to 2/10, it’s still not worth revisiting.

07 Náttúra – This is a different matter, a rousing drum-roll opens what is a bit of a dizzying flurry of synths, drums and tribal chants. It sounds a bit manic but it’s got something to it. Energy and drama, even if it’s a bit of a racket.

Finally we have a few remixes by Omar Souleyman. No I don’t know who that is, but he needs to produce her next album, STAT.

08 Crystalline (Omar Souleyman remix) – Basically the irritating single re-imagined as a Turkish Eurovision entry, and turns out to be a lot more listenable than either. Plenty of Arabian-sounding flourishes, thought pumped through a synth instead of the stereotypical snake-charmer instruments I’d probably imagine. He’s from Syria apparently, they must not put up with a lot of nonsense like this album in Syria. A bit messy in places, and didn’t really need to be 6:41 long, but a good salvage operation.

07 Tesla – A remix by Omar again, this time an unrecognisable remix of Thunderbolt. His synths run a bit rampant, it’s like a manic version of the Crystalline remix, but mostly he’s using the same instrumentation and adding a few Hala Hala’s here and there. It’s a bit wearing really, but there’s some nice energy to it. Apart from a few lines of the original vocals, it’s totally unrecognisable as a remix of Thunderbolt though, which makes you wonder what it was supposed to be.

Hmm, so there we have it, and she’s not showing any signs of wanting to produce a more commercial return to her glory days. Does that mean those days were down to record company influence, and this is the ‘real’ Bjork? God knows she probably doesn’t need the money anymore, she can probably buy Iceland already, I can’t imagine it’s worth much these days. The problem is that – like most/all abstract art – I just don’t get what it’s supposed to mean. The songs are often only barely listenable musically, and are only rarely possible to decipher. It seems there is no angle for me to approach her latter albums to get any sort of enjoyment out of them. So it’s a bit of a bittersweet ending to my seemingly-endless trip down Bjork’s back catalogue. Sweet because it’s over, but bitter because my relationship with Bjork as an artist I have any interest in is definitely over.

Keepers for the iPod: Virus

And finally: My favourite Bjork tracks

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