13 January, 2005

munkey's-eye view: BJÖRK ~ MEDÚLLA


me.dul.la n. pl. me.dul.las or me.dul.lae
1. The inner core of certain organs or body structures, such as the marrow of bone.

Enchanting and enigmatic she may be... but our beloved Ms Guthmundsdóttir has never been easy to swallow. And so it is with her latest release Medúlla ~ quite possibly her most challenging to date. The tone is set by the CD artwork, where full tracklisting and lyrics are printed in ink the exact same colour as the background paper... forcing the reader to hold the sheet at an angle, squinting to decipher the glossy text from the matte background. Right away, we know that two decades in the biz has not led the impish Icelander to pander to her crowd.

Abandonning the lush string section of Homogenic and the hypnotic electronica of Vespertine, the new album is Björk-does-Bobby-McFerrin ~ as she constructs beats, harmonies and atmosphere almost entirely from variously treated and edited snippets of the human voice. An Icelandic choir and guest vocalists are woven into the mix, but of course Björk's own astonishing vocals are the star of the show... particularly when several of her vocal lines intersect and overlap in improbable yet breathtaking harmonies, on songs such as Desired Constellation.

Certain tracks grab the listener right from the outset. The hymn-like Vokuro ~ all in Icelandic and featuring full choral arrangement ~ is one of Björk's most beautiful creations to date, while the mysterious Mouth's Cradle features her trademark intriguing lyrics: "...you can use these teeth / follow my voice ... Up to mouth's cradle ... I need a shelter to build an altar away / From all the osamas and bushes". Other songs meanwhile take a bit of getting used to, as the off-kilter beats and conflicting vocal strands seem to jar a little at first. However upon repeated listening, the ear becomes accustomed to the unconventional structure and tone of Medúlla's sounds, and the album flows as a whole remarkably well.

Let's face it: when an established star refuses to rest on her laurels, continuing to break boundaries and challenge her audience, one can only applaud. Björk could have released an album of catchy tunes in the vein of It's Oh So Quiet and knocked-off a guaranteed big-seller. But she trusts her audience, and knows that the reason we all love her is becuase she continues to be in-your-face and off-beat. Bless her to bits.

4 (out of 5)




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