Ode to Ice­land’s coolest ex­port

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - EGuide Music - JAR­RAD BE­VAN

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.

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