Ode to Iceland’s coolest export
FOR an album that starts with an unassuming, delicately plucked harp, Biophilia is a wildly ambitious record.
Iceland’s diminutive, elf-like popstar Bjork Gudmundsdottir is no stranger to hype, but even she wouldn’t be accustomed to the attention her eighth album has attracted ahead of its release.
Some have heralded Biophilia – a fusion of album, iPad and iPhone app – as the future of the music industry. One scribe even suggested it would ‘‘ smash industry conventions’’. Wow.
A little overexcited? Yes. But unfounded? Not so much.
Biophilia combines an album with videos, documentaries, invented instruments, essays by university professors and narration by none other than Sir David Attenborough! Oh, and colour-coded tuning forks.
Her themes are vast, from the solar system to bio-rhythms, genetics to plate tectonics. The release is nothing short of an interactive multi-media showcase.
However, the whole idea – and it is a cool one – would fall apart if her quirky pop songs sucked. They don’t.
Compared with her last album, which was a little overcooked, Bjork has opted for an organic and minimal musical style here.
Her angelic, unique voice floats atop whimsical melodies, cheeky electronic rhythms and, occasionally, rumbling bass.
Unconventional time signatures help the album sound otherworldly – Hollow and Moon are in 17/ 8 while Solstice is 7/ 4.
Crystalline is all clicks and pops and soft melodies in the beginning but it’s got an ace up its sleeve – a surprising, frantic, drum ‘ n’ bass onslaught that’s as good a climax as you’ll hear all year. Also, sooo not traditional in a popmusic sense.
Sounds like Aphex Twin snuck into the studio and turned everything up to 11.
Set over abstract melodies, Virus works on a bunch of levels. It’s probably tied to Bjork’s bigpicture concept, but it also feels like a love song: ‘‘ I adapt, contagious, you open up, say welcome’’.
It is the battle between the humming, pretty organ and the fierce explosion of mid-song beats on Mutual Core that makes it special. It is the give and take, the yin and yang.
Bjork can do mad, unhinged and experimental with her eyes closed. But she can also produce stunningly beautiful music such as the unhurried, soothing, sweet and sun-kissed Cosmogony. Fragile and fantastic; weird but wonderful.