Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Bjork, Volta

So, how do you go about reviewing a Bjork album?  I suppose you can always talk about that voice.  The woman does have a remarkable voice.  It swoops, it keens, it whispers.  From one volta frontline to the next, hell, from one syllable to the next she can whisper, rage, or deliver a tone so pure and clean you think you are in the presence of the goddess Benzaiten (Japanese goddess of music, poetry, eloquence and all things that flow).  And it’s not just her voice, but her diction and pronunciation as well.  Bjork speaks English like no one else on earth – at least no one I’ve ever heard – and yet she never sounds forced or awkward.  She leads you to consider the meaning of her words by the manner in which she says them.  When she sings, you listen to what she has to say;  her voice, phrasing and diction compel attention.

Which is a good thing because her lyrics are often obscure. “I have guided my bones / through some voltage / and loved them still / and loved them too . . . ”  Sometimes repetition brings a form of clarity to her lyrics, sometimes it doesn’t. For me, a verse or a passage will come to carry emotional weight but the whole song will often not cohere into a single, simple message.  Maybe she intends this, maybe I just don’t get it. 

“Volta” has been widely characterized in the music press as Bjork’s most accessible album in years.  Whether or not that is accurate, make no mistake, this is art music, not rock or pop as typically conceived.  Timbaland contributes to a couple of tracks, and these are generally the volta interiormost “familiar” sounding tracks on the album, but this is a Bjork album through and through.  Which means it’s out there – way out there.  Bjork is an artistic space all her own.  Her work takes little or no account of the typical attributes of pop or rock music in melodic or rhythmic structure, instrumentation, or lyrical content.  Not only is her voice unique but no one in the pop world makes music like hers.  And yet, the pop world continues to listen, review her albums and take her seriously.  I think this is both remarkable and terrific.  Bjork has insisted on going her own way, has produced often difficult and sometimes impenetrable music, and yet the general music-aware audience has continued to pay attention. 

“Volta”‘s opening track, “We Are the Earth Intruders”, co-produced by Timbaland, is the album’s most accessible number.  The second track, “Wanderlust”, opens with a sound collage of waves, seagulls, a car engine starting and idling and a foghorn that slowly develops into a passage for brass (and it sounds like some woodwinds to me although none are credited) that is breathtaking.  From there the album moves off into the art music realm with one or two brief returns to more familair ground via the Timbaland tracks which seem almost mundane in comparison with the rest.  Volta may be an album that is easier to admire than to love but Bjork is always interesting.

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05/24/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music

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