I’m not going to lie, I love Björk. The way she punches paparazzi and rips their shirts down the middle, the half-octopus half-mushroom costume she wore to perform at 2007’s Coachella, and her mind-blowing music videos will always be my nearest and dearest memories of Björk.
Hailing from that volcanically active landmass we call Iceland, Björk has been making music for nearly two decades. Her most recent release, titled “Biophilia,” comes four years after the release of 2007’s “Volta,” the high energy, instrument-heavy album that earned her a headlining slot at Coachella and a performance on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Biophilia” is a huge departure from her last album. “Volta” was filled with tribal drums, heavy electronics and the occasional trumpet fused together to create a deliciously off-beat album. “Biophilia” makes use of few instruments, though electronic instruments have a major presence. With that being said, Biophilia still feels like the mellower younger sister to the obnoxiously upbeat “Volta.”
Björk broke the musical mold when she created this album, as “Biophilia” is a collaborative fusion between music and technology. In the process of recording “Biophilia,” Björk worked with a team of computer programmers to create an interactive iPhone/iPad application for each song on the album, creating an audiovisual unlike anything else.
For no charge, curious folk can download the “Biophilia” app, which serves as an introductory piece to her album and gives the listener/viewer a short preview of each song with just a taste of the spacey graphics that can be found on the individual song apps. The British narrator who introduces “Biophilia” urges us to “create and explore” as we pinch and swipe our way through Björk’s high-tech experience. In a recent interview with NPR’s Bob Boilen, Björk spoke about the “Biophilia” app experience, saying, “I found in the touch screen a way to visualize how I see a song when I close my eyes.”
Even given the innovation of this technological gimmick, what really matters is the music inside “Biophilia.” The opening track, entitled “Moon,” sets the melancholic tone for the album as it begins with a barrage of plucky strings that build to a soft crescendo as Björk’s childlike voice comes in to sing about saliva. Yes, saliva. At first listen, it’s hard to understand what she is saying, but closer listening reveals that Björk is indeed wailing, “As the lukewarm hands of the gods / came down gently and picked my adrenaline pearls / they placed them in their mouths.” Classic Björk. Just as strange as ever.
For the most part, the songs on “Biophilia” aren’t ones you would typically play as you were getting ready for a night out on the town. Instead, these songs are just meant to be listened to.
Another standout track on the album is “Crystalline.” Accompanied by what sounds like an electronic harpsichord, Björk’s voice is strangely reminiscent of Joanna Newsom on this track. “Crystalline” is a perfect example of the minimalist nature of the album. Instead of layering instrument upon instrument, Björk sticks to two distinct sounds: the plucky, electronic harpsichord and a soft slapping of electronically produced beats.
Nature is an ever-present motif in this album. “Moon,” “Thunderbolt,” “Virus” and “Solstice” all embody varying elements of nature with their titles. “Virus” is a nearly six-minute-long song that recounts the relationship between a virus and its host as well as a wide array of natural elements, “like a mushroom on a tree trunk / as the protein transmutates.”
It’s not the vivaciously eclectic Björk that I love; rather, it is the new Björk that won me over with her awareness of the ever-combining relationship between music and technology. “Biophilia’s” musical project is a wondrous fusion between technology and sound, all conceptualized in the mind of one Icelandic artist. Although “Biophilia” is a slow-moving album filled with hauntingly low-tempo songs and minimal use of instruments, it’s definitely worth listening to — and playing with.
Rating: 3 out of 5