Music Reviews

Bjork Volta

(Atlantic) Rating - 8/10

There are a few kinds of Bjork fans, too diverse to break it down into one of those tired "2 kinds of people" icebreakers. Bjork's status has grown in recent years due to coverage and deification in various indie communities for her bold, ambitious, and personal recent output. It's almost as if she's been reclaimed back to her Sugarcubes days as a champion mascot of college/alternative/indie rock.

Myself, I'm one of those who was so enamoured of her initial post-Cubes trilogy of avant dance/pop masterpieces that even my completely unfair idolization of her image couldn't persuade me to follow her down the rabbit hole we tripped over with Vespertine. It is unpopular to praise artistic stasis, but I still thought I would rather have her replicate her best albums, Homogenic and Post, over and over until pop culture was stamped with their ubiquity than have her grow and develop into subtler shadings and experiments.

Of course, time proves the error of doubting such a pure artist and diva, who turns out to have been operating on a higher plane than overly possessive fans such as myself who imposed their own Peter Pan syndromes on her objectified artistic identity. Time has granted greater clarity to more indie-friendly releases such as Vespertine, SelmaSongs, and Medulla, all of which have unfolded to reveal themselves as stirring and engrossing works.

After years of fearlessness, Volta almost seems a step back to virgin ears. Like Squarepusher's Hello Everything, the album first registers as sort of a streamlined, original Greatest Hits. Many songs recall past landmarks without the adrenaline buzz of an artist out on a dangerous limb. It almost seems as if stock has been taken of past developments and been repackaged into a more judicious whole. There are no eargasms along the lines of Hyperballad, Bachelorette, or 5 Years, but the whole thing is agreeable.

It is upon repeated listening that agreeability turns into undeniability, and the album reveals its brilliance. Songs such as Hope, The Dull Flame of Desire, and Wanderlust drift from pleasant retreads into highly moving gems that display how Bjork's cultivated bag of tricks weave instruments, beats, and vocals into bottomless tapestries built for posterity if not for immediately accessible listening. A sprinkling of remarkable collaborations with Norfolk producer Timbaland, on tracks such as Innocence and Earth Intruders, injects a punch into the proceedings that quieter cuts benefit from in contrast (to disguise their own punches that emerge down the line). Bjork is one of the few artists whose own composition and sensibility seems to stretch Timbaland's, rather than vice versa. Toward the end, the anthemic Declare Independence sneaks up out of nowhere, reasserting this diminutive killer's power to be more threatening than the hardest of hardcore. As diva fierceness goes, it essentially invalidates any credit Beyonce earned with Ring the Alarm, which now seems tepid.

This review has been much delayed due to a series of false starts. I would listen, start writing, get lost in the music, and the words would spin out of control, grasping to describe the subtle dynamics that slithered up and around each other. The blatant and hidden surprises. I am now collected enough to give up and just say that it is great. Listen to it at least five times before you disagree. Then we'll start a club of recovering doubters.