Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock, Experimental Rock
Björk's eighth studio album is the climax of two decades spent searching for the spontaneous, emotional sounds hidden within electronic noisemakers. She foretold "modern things" living hidden in nature on her 1995 album, Post, and since then the Icelandic star has successfully paired classical influences with technological innovation to underscore the stark, primordial urges of her unique voice. Biophilia is one of Björk's best and most challenging records; it's in a galaxy all its own, one that's not for the faint of heart.
Bjork sings it like a sorceress sharing a recipe: "Nuance makes heat." That line in "Mutual Core" neatly captures the effect of the eerie details that suffuse her eighth album: organ, squishy electronics and the high sighs of a women's choir in stark fields of echo, like a haunted digital sister of Nico's 1969 album, The Marble Index. Biophilia was partly created on an iPad and is being released as a set of apps. But in the songs, human desires and foibles echo natural phenomena: the fatal passion in "Virus," the new worlds born in "Cosmogony." And when Bjork's supernatural voice soars in "Thunderbolt" – "Craving miracles" – soul easily trumps software.
I’m not sure which is more insulting: calling Steve Jobs a “folk hero” or describing Apple technology as an “aesthetic.” The press has been belching out these two terms with such mind-numbing regularity over the past five days that they’ve actually come to resemble one of Jobs’ own advertising campaigns. And I’m talking about the “left” press here; both NPR and The Huffington Post quickly buried their coverage of the Wall Street demonstrations in order to carry “news items” (i.e., “ads”) about Jobs’ “heroic” career as the CEO of Apple and the “artistry” of his corporate vision. (Only Forbes had the balls to call him a “jerk.”) The term “folk hero” is stupid enough.
The 18th-century poet and artist William Blake once wrote, “Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death. ” Blake was a controversial figure who rejected organised religion, but in his art and writing he yearned to find a sense of wonder in the world that science was increasingly defining and exploiting for profit around him.
Björk’s new multi-multimedia project Biophilia has a seemingly unassuming title, referring to biologist Edward O. Wilson’s theory of the innate sensitivity humans possess towards all living things. But in these times of such rapacious consumption—nay, environmental annihilation—and against a backdrop of manifold, ceaseless conflicts and violent put-downs of civil unrest, it is shot through with the sort of audacious gravitas one has generally come to expect of her.
Björk has spent six albums twisting organic sounds and galactic transmissions into parallel-universe pop, with results both classic (1997s Homogenic) and confusing (2007’s murky Volta). Biophilia is rife with drum-and-bass breakdowns and Casio blurps — an ingenious marriage of faerie and machine (including the accompanying iPad apps). But the singer’s greatest strength remains the glistening natural resource flowing from her throat.
It gets said all the time these days but really, who else could’ve done this? This, of course, being Biophilia, the latest full-length from Icelandic super-chanteuse Björk. Last we heard from her was four years ago, when her most amiable record yet, Volta, had garnered some talk that her career was finally beginning to wind down. Indeed, Volta featured more high-profile guest spots and co-producers (Antony and Timbaland among them) than on previous efforts, while forgoing much of her bent for the avant-garde (it came on the heels of the very divisive, mostly a capella MedÃºlla), all of which made for one decidedly digestible effort.
It’s hard to even explain the “what” of Björk’s eighth album, Biophilia, much less the “how. ” An entire article could be devoted to exploring and explaining the process by which the album was created, the collaborations with National Geographic and Apple and David Attenborough, the creation and inclusion of “gravity harps,” the release of the album as not a piece of music but as a part of an experiential interactive semi-educational “project” to be released as a collection of iPad and iPhone apps, and on and on and on. I won’t delve too deeply into the back-story of Biophilia, but I do encourage anyone with even a passing interest in music and technology to dig in and read all about the amazingly ambitious undertaking.
Over the years, the packaging of Björk's albums grew famously, and increasingly, elaborate, but Biophilia is the first Björk project where the set of songs isn’t the complete package. Designed as a suite of interactive iPad and iPhone apps that explore humanity’s relationships with sound and the universe, the album’s concept was so grand that it began as a musical house and ended up including scientists, engineers, video game designers, and film directors among Björk's collaborators. Biophilia's boldest innovations are in its presentation rather than in the actual music, which is surprisingly subtle and intimate given the concept’s immense scope, but the perfect size to be cradled in a lap or palm.
Review Summary: Far better than anybody had any right to expect. It's been hard for me not to be really cynical about all the talk that's surrounded Biophilia for months now. It's seemed at times as though people aren't even talking about a record - for all the hype about apps and iPads and the liberal use of buzz-phrases like 'open-source' and 'interactive', it seems to have been forgotten that Biophilia is ultimately a pop album first and foremost, and as such nobody seemed concerned about how good it was going to be, as opposed to how inventive or important.
Imagine drawing symphonies with a fingertip. It's the kind of synaesthetic contrivance that is usually the preserve of science fiction. But large parts of Icelandic singer Björk's latest album were made like this – tracing hillocks of bass or curlicues of strings on touchscreens: intuitively, gleefully. Then there are the bits of tunes composed on computers and plugged into newly invented, old school-sounding instruments via revolutionary new electronic interfaces.
Few, if any, artists as prominent as Björk is are so innovative by nature and eager to take risks, though who and what she is tends to overshadow how brilliant her actual work can be. While it’s no surprise that the Icelandic multimedia star would be known by a mainstream audience for her infamous red-carpet swan dress or, at most, as an art-scarred proto-Gaga, Björk probably isn’t even appreciated as she should be by music lovers in the know, in part because her adventurousness as a performer makes her hard to keep up with and get a handle on. With each album since 1997’s electro-pop masterpiece Homogenic, the way Björk has singlemindedly explored a specific out-of-left-field musical conceit has drawn attention away from the music itself, be it the digital-age music-box melodies of 2001’s Vespertine or the vocal explorations of 2004’s Medulla.
Pioneering, certainly. Innovative, interesting, groundbreaking and visionary - sure, the Biophilia project is all of these. But the headlines and screengrabs, the comment-board rantings and the interviews in Wired magazine - all these things add up to one quite sad thing: that Björk’s seventh album risks being remembered more for its multimedia than for its songs.
The biggest artists in the world might look on in envy at the advance publicity for Björk's eighth album, Biophilia. It's been heralded not merely as an important new release but the future of the entire record industry. "Björk Fights to Save Music" offered the headline in Mojo, not a magazine renowned for working itself up into a state of breathless over-excitement.
Björk's always been a performer with a lot of ideas. These ideas haven't necessarily been in the fore of all of her output, or the general reaction to it (it's odd to think now, of how often Björk was described in the music press with something like "Icelandic sex kitten"), but they've always been there. At the same time, Björk's largely been described as a "pop" artist, and pop music typically requires artists to deal in certain forms and styles that aren't necessarily meant to engage listeners with ideas.
It's hard to tell if Björk is even interested in making pop music anymore. In spite of a promotional campaign heralding it as the wayward alt-pop diva's return to form, Björk's last record, Volta, was as meticulous and academic as any of her post-Homogenic esoterica. Not even a heavy artillery brass brigade and a tribe of live percussionists could give it a pulse.
The most common caricatures of Björk tend to fixate on her outsized aesthetic sense. But for all the bonkers fashion choices, outré collaborators, and leftfield influences she pulls into her orbit, it's easy to forget that her worldview is also equally informed by a sympathy and awareness of the systems that guide us. From the "beats and strings" manifesto that shaped Homogenic to the "music for laptop speakers" mandate that drove Vespertine through to the vocals-only absolutism of Medúlla, her obsession with patterns and structure and conceptual boundaries has consistently been at the center of her work.
Icelandic iconoclast, Björk Gudmundsdottir, first found international solo success with indie-pop sextet The Sugarcubes before Debut catapulted her to solo success in 1993. That record channelled the ecstatic rush of the dancefloor into a collage of different influences and turned her into one of the era’s most unlikely stars. A string of superlative albums followed, peaking with the frosty sparkle and hushed micro-beats of 2001’s Vespertine.
Since 1997's Homogenic, Björk's career peak in this writer's opinion, she has steadily released a new album every three to four years and with each new release, she has yielded fewer and fewer returns. This is not to say that Vespertine, Medulla, and Volta were bad albums, but they all did fail to capture the magic of Björk's '90s hot streak, in which she managed to be both effortlessly innovative and effortlessly melodic. Unfortunately, Biophilia continues this downward trend.
Through many kinds of sounds, styles and substance, Björk has always supported a poignant affection of splendid music. For practically twenty years the Icelandic musician has stepped out of her skin, time after time, to craft some of the better albums of these decades. Post and Vespertine nestle within the realm of masterpiece territory and much of her music prevails on extraordinary vocal ability and pure heart and spirit.
An amazing, inventive and wholly unique eighth album from an artist without peer. Mike Diver 2011 Ever the inventive artist, for her eighth studio long-player Björk also turned inventor, commissioning the construction of specialist instruments to compose these 10 tracks upon. Among them, the gameleste – a fusion of gamelan and celeste – which can be heard, a persistent twinkle in the mix, across this set’s lead single, Crystalline.
Dancing about architecture is tricky enough as it is without tasking yourself to review a record that's all about escaping from the tyranny of established forms. But we've a round hole here in desperate need of a square peg, so have at you, Gudmundsdottir. Biophilia was conceived both as an alternative to Bjork's experience of classical musical education and as riposte to doommongers who moan about the internet killing music.
Once a user navigates past the title on Björk’s new “Biophilia’’ app for the iPad, the screen is plunged into a sea of constellations floating in a loose 3-D formation. David Attenborough’s knightly documentary voice droops in to introduce the big idea - “Biophilia’’ is about a love of all things seen and unseen in nature. He notes, “We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through technology.’’ From there, we’re on our own.