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Bjork | Medulla | review | alternative | Lollipop
by Tim Den
It's always hard trying to find descriptions for Björk's works, which says a lot about what the Icelandic diva has accomplished. For instance, with her latest full-length, Medúlla, one can take the easy way and just point out the obvious: It's an album made entirely of human voices and no instruments. But could such a cold fact convey the depth of mood perception and psychic manipulation the album holds? Not a chance. But then how do you describe "mood perception and psychic manipulation"? Do you find the closest parallels (Aphex Twin, Fantômas) and then add "oh, except with no instruments"? Or do you concentrate on the jaw-dropping skills of the performers to paint a surrealistic picture (The Roots' Rhazel is particularly worth mentioning. His one-take beat boxing on "Who Is It [Carry My Joy On the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right]" will knock you the fuck over)?
Knowing that I can't possibly achieve the perfect description of Medúlla, I will now attempt to at least create a balance of these different approaches. Yes, it's an album made of only (very talented) voices, but obviously modern wizardry was involved in piecing everything together. It ain't a capella au natural, is what I'm saying. For example, Rhazel's performance was completely torn apart and rebuilt in ProTools for "Where Is the Line," and vocal god Mike Patton's sub bass demon rumbles were put through octave pedals to achieve their state. But the Human Factor in its purest form is still well represented with Icelandic choirs, Björk's own soaring soprano, and an Inuit throat singer named Tagaq - whose "cough of death" freakiness is second to only the Himalayan throat singers (if you haven't heard this shit, I highly suggest you check it out). Yet the outcome is not simply astonishment at the possibilities of the human voice, it's a starry sky of emotional constellations, dense and overwhelming, yet carefully distanced from each other upon closer inspection. "Oceania" and "Vörukó" might be choir-based hymns on the surface, but explore deeper and you will hear Ancient Nature's wisdom in the former and the frostbitten winds of Iceland in the latter. They are not just conglomerations of voices, they are places to visit, sights to behold, mental states to be engulfed in.
Once again, Björk has raised the bar for music's evolution without compromising songwriting. Once again, a review has failed to fully capture her work's magnitude and power. Experience Medúlla for yourself. You won't regret it.