Monday, September 19, 2005

Possibly Maybe

B. asked me to post about The Queen... Well, when I think of the queen, I think of Björk...

Björk first came to prominence as one of the lead vocalists of the avant-pop Icelandic sextet The Sugarcubes, but when she launched a solo career after the group's 1992 demise, she quickly eclipsed her old band's popularity. Instead of following in The Sugarcubes' arty guitar rock pretensions, Björk immersed herself in dance and club culture, working with many of the biggest names in the genre, including Nellee Hooper, Underworld, and Tricky.

Freed from The Sugarcubes' confines, Björk takes her voice and creativity to new heights in "Debut", her first solo work. With producer Nellee Hooper's help, she moves in an elegantly playful, dance-inspired direction, crafting highly individual, emotional electronic pop songs like the shivery, idealistic "One Day" and the bittersweet "Violently Happy". Despite the album's swift stylistic shifts, each of the tracks are distinctively Björk. "Human Behaviour"'s dramatic percussion provides a perfect showcase for her wide-ranging voice; "Aeroplane" casts her as a yearning lover against a lush, exotica-inspired backdrop; and the spare, poignant "Anchor Song" uses just her voice and a brass section to capture the loneliness of the sea. Björk's playful energy ignites dance-pop-like "Big Time Sensuality", and turns the genre on its head with "There's More To Life Than This". Recorded live at one bar toilets, it captures the dancefloor's sweaty, claustrophobic groove, but her impish voice gives it an almost alien feel. But the album's romantic moments may be its most striking: "Venus As A Boy" fairly swoons with twinkly vibes and lush strings, and Björk's vocals and lyrics ("His wicked sense of humor/suggests exciting sex") are sweet and just the slightest bit naughty. With harpist Corki Hale, she completely reinvents "Like Someone In Love", making it one of her own ballads.

"Debut" not only announced Björk's remarkable talent, it suggested she had even more to offer. After this success, the pressure was on her to surpass the album's creative, tantalizing electronic pop. She more than delivered with 1995's "Post"; from the menacing, industrial-tinged opener "Army Of Me", it's clear that this album is not simply "Debut" redux. The songs (especially the epic, modern fairy tale "Isobel"), production, and arrangements all aim for, and accomplish, more. "Post" also features producer Nellee Hooper, who help Björk incorporate spectrum of electronic and orchestral styles into songs like "Hyperballad", which sounds like a love song penned by Aphex Twin. Meanwhile, the bristling beats on the volatile, sensual "Enjoy" and the fragile, weightless ballad "Possibly Maybe" nod to trip-hop without being overwhelmed by it. As on "Debut", Björk finds new ways of expressing timeworn emotions like love, lust, and yearning in abstractly precise lyrics like "Since you went away/I'm wearing lipstick again/I suck my tongue in remembrance of you", from "Possibly Maybe". But "Post"'s emotional peaks and valleys are more extreme than "Debut"'s. "I Miss You"'s exuberance is so animated, it makes perfect sense that John Kricfalusi directed the song's video. Likewise, "It's Oh So Quiet" is so cartoonishly vibrant, it could have been arranged by Warner Bros. musical director, Carl Stalling. Yet, Björk sounds equally comfortable with an understated strings section on "You've Been Flirting Again". "Headphones" ends the album on an experimental, hypnotic note, layering Björk's vocals over and over till they circle each other atop a bubbling, minimal beat. The work of a constantly changing artist, "Post" proves that as Björk moves toward more ambitious, complex music, she always surpasses herself.

By the late '90s, Björk's playful, unique world view and singular voice became as confining as they were defining. With its surprising starkness and darkness, 1997's "Homogenic" shatters her Icelandic pixie image. Possibly inspired by her failed relationship with drum'n'bass kingpin Goldie, Björk sheds her more precious aspects, displaying more emotional depth than even her best previous work indicated. Her collaborators help make this album not only her emotionally bravest work, but her most sonically adventurous as well. A seamless fusion of chilly strings, stuttering, abstract beats, and unique touches like accordion and glass harmonica, "Homogenic" alternates between dark, uncompromising songs such as the icy opener "Hunter" and more soothing fare like the gently percolating "All Neon Like." The noisy, four-on-the-floor catharsis of "Pluto" and the raw vocals and abstract beats of "5 Years" and "Immature" reveal surprising amounts of anger, pain, and strength in the face of heartache. "I dare you to take me on," Björk challenges her lover in "5 Years," and wonders on "Immature," "How could I be so immature/To think he would replace/The missing elements in me?" "Bachelorette," a sweeping, brooding cousin to "Post"'s "Isobel," is possibly "Homogenic"'s saddest, most beautiful moment, giving filmic grandeur to a stormy relationship. Björk lets a little hope shine through on "Jòga," a moving song dedicated to her homeland and her best friend, and the reassuring finale, "All Is Full of Love." "Alarm Call"'s uplifting dance-pop seems out of place with the rest of the album, but as its title implies, "Homogenic" is her most holistic work. While it might not represent every side of Björk's music, "Homogenic" displays some of her most impressive heights.

In the spring of 2000, she was named Best Actress by jurors at the Cannes Film Festival for her work in Lars von Trier's Palme d'Or-winning "Dancer in the Dark". "Selmasongs", her score for the film, reunited Björk with her "Homogenic" collaborator Mark Bell and arrived in the fall of 2000. The full-length follow-up, "Vespertine", was released one year later. She released a "Greatest Hits" collection and the "Family Tree" box set late in 2002. After performing a few dates in 2003, Björk geared up for a busy 2004, which included the release of her all-vocals and vocal samples-based album "Medúlla" and a performance of one of its songs, "Oceania," at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. The soundtrack to "Drawing Restraint 9", a film by multimedia artist Matthew Barney, arrived in 2005 and also featured contributions from Will Oldham.


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