on 24 August 2004
OK, I listened to it once, and seriously thought I'd wasted my money. But my advice on this album would be to play it again and again, and after a few spins, it becomes hypnotically beautiful. It certainly isn't commercial, but if Bjork sold herself to the masses, she'd lose at least this one fan. You really do have to try with a lot of this music, and I don't profess for one moment to understand one half of what Bjork is trying to communicate here (but then I only got the album a few days ago). I've listened to it regularly and have to say this could rank as the best contribution she's yet made to the music industry. It's different, some people sure are gonna loathe it, but I say bravo for doing something so personal and original. Some of it sounds more classical than popular to my ears (possibly due to her recent collaboration with John Tavener) - track 4 is an example. I didn't think Bjork still had it in her to surprise me, but hey, she's done it again!
on 6 September 2004
An entire album that uses human voices as the main instruments?...sounds intriguing, and a concept that could only be conjured up by Bjork, who I consider to be possibly one of the most original artist of our generation.
Intriguing is right, along with beautiful and breath-taking.
Bjork has created a 14 track strong album that progresses on from where her marvelous Vespertine (2001) left us. Through the arrangement of the human voice, Bjork creates tracks that are diversely romantic, chaotic, experimental and dancy.
The album opens with one of the strongest tracks, "Pleasure Is All Mine", which quickly becomes one of her most beautiful tracks to date. Initially stark koo-ing, backed by various throat-like support, soon becomes a soundtrack of layered vocals; harmonious and soaring. As with her previous album openers, "Pleasure Is All Mine", prepares us for the following 13 tracks superbly.
"Where Is The Line", continues this layered vocal, this time accompanied by voice-box beats, giving the track a menacing feel. This track is one of many personal highlights, demonstrating the true versatility of the human voice. Addressing Bjork's frustration with someone, the track explodes into distorted chaos.
"Vokuro", offers us the exact contrast of "Where Is The Line". It is a beautiful, hymn-like track, sang purely in Icelandic accompanied by a male choir, simple against many of the other tracks, but still deeply haunting and affective.
"Who Is It", is a much more schizophrenic track, with its dark verses which quickly turn into an uplifting chorus, fuelled by it's 'Trip-hoppy' beat-box beat. Bjork's lyrics are as rich as ever here, "His embrace, a Fortress, It fuels me and places, A skeleton of trust..."
"Desired Constellation", reminds me of "Cocoon". Simplistic in terms of layers, but again...very beautiful and affecting. One of the only tracks where she is accompanied by an instrument, yet seems to fit in with the rest of the album perfectly.
"Oceania", is a joyful poetic tribute to the human race as sung from the oceans' point of view. Bjork's joined here by a choir singing up and down scales, giving the song a playful edge...aquatic and romantic.
"Ancestors", is pure improvisation with Bjork, a piano and a throat singer. It becomes almost difficult to listen to, but showcases Bjork's talent to be completely original, experimental and shows the versatilities between the sounds a voice can produce.
"Mouth's Cradle", seems more rhythmical than most tracks. A wonderfully romantic song of escaping inside a lovers mouth, "...Away from the Osamas and Bushes". This track refers strongly to the music concrette that was seen previously on "Homogenic" and "Vespertine", and is another excellent example of the vocal contrasts on "Medulla".
As one would expect from Bjork, this album is full of creativity and artistry. "Medulla" really does proove that Bjork is a truly unique talent in todays music industry. Buy, listen with an open mind, and be inspired!
on 1 September 2004
Anyone who has listened to Bjork beyond the "chart-friendly" early days of 'Debut' will know to expect the unexpected with each new album. Continuing the introspective feel of 'Verspertine', Medulla (meaning 'bone marrow') will astound and confound most listeners.
Eschewing "real instruments" for vocal sounds only (with a little help from a programmer on some tracks) Medulla demands that you listen closely - this isn't background muzak to soothe you after a tired day! Having said that, several tracks are intimately beautiful and are calming and soothing - check out the beautiful choral work of 'Vokuro' or the tingling gentleness of 'Desired Constellation'. At the other end of the spectrum 'Where is the line' is hard, dark and cutting, the human beatbox rhythms driving the incessant lyric forward despite itself.
In the middle are melodic but rhythmic songs like 'Oceania' and 'Pleasure is all mine', overlaid with choral vocals that swoop around Bjork's own distinctive voice, as strong as ever. More abstract work such as Sonnets/Unrealities, Ancestors, Oll Birtan can meander a little - they feel like they're unravelled to the point of losing the plot and are the most difficult tracks to get into, but with repeat listening grow and become characteristic in their own ways; Oll Birtan starts to sound like 'Row Row Row your boat' with a simplicity belying its original confrontational style.
The outstanding track for me is Mouths Cradle, combining beat, choral voices, programming and a climactic ending that is hard to beat.
Overall Medulla contains more beautiful, essential Bjork tracks, continuing her excellent work from earlier albums - not as passionate as 'Homogenic' or as warm and inviting as 'Vespertine' or as startling as 'Debut', 'Medulla' is true to itself, charting the dark inner territories of the human.
on 25 August 2004
I was another of the lucky ones to hear this album before general release. I will start by saying that I was looking forward to the studio version of Where is the line, and I am a bit dissapointed I must say. The version she played live was so powerful, with arabic undertones, a sort of evolution from Army of me. The studio version is rather dark and slow. I still love it though. Vokuro, one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, no words to describe it. Who is it and mouth's cradle are songs that a lot of people will love, and I love them too!! happy, surreal - you just walk with your ipod around and no-one knows how happy you feel inside.
Desired constellation.. another of those songs that are difficult to describe with words, bless her. So much emotion coming out in such a beautiful way. Triumph of a heart, makes you want to get together with your friends and organise an improvisation of noises and beats, SO MUCH FUN!!
I am very curious about what will come next, I hope Bjork wont ditch instruments forever and that Matmos and Zeena will come back to working with her, From a listener point of view I feel they still have a lot to explore together.
Thanks again Bjork for the music and the inspiration!
on 20 September 2004
A new album by Bjork is, of course, an event. She doesn't just throw out a group of ballads every now and again. A Bjork album is work of art that has been really been thought about. It's never just the songs that are new, either, it's the way they are produced also. In this way, Medulla is no exception. Gone are the instruments: here to stay is the voice, albeit in many different guises.
Mostly, this album is brilliant. A couple of the tracks 'Who is it' and 'Desired Costellation' rank among Bjorks best. In fact, if you were to cut out 'Ancestors' and possibly one of the shorter Icelandic tracks, you'd have a near perfect album. I hate to say it, but in these last examples, I suspect Bjork has gone a little too far. It's great to hear her voice interweave with a piano sample, but in the long run, there is a limit to how many guttural groans the listener can bear. Where is the line? I don't know, but she I think she gets too close to it at times. On the whole, yet, I can't complain. When you step out of Bjorks world and see what other artists are doing, you realise how much the world needs her. Medulla should further cement the reputation she deserves as the best female vocalist of the last ten years
on 30 August 2004
I must admit that i had my doubts when i heard that Bjork was relying on just vocals for this album. I too was lucky to get this album before it went on general release, and i couldn't wait, i was so excited. Upon hearing it fresh from its brand new case, i was mesmerised.
I have never in my life heard anything so unique and beautiful, and i am sure it will never be duplicated in years to come. As with her previous album, Vespertine, it took me a few listening tests before i really appreciated it to its fullest, i love every song because they don't overpower each other and everyone has its own distinct sound or rythmn.
I first heard Oceania at the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics, being park greek myself, i was extremely overwhelmed by the sight of seeing my favourite singer perform in my home country. WOW!
I recomend to all, it is another masterpiece from the princess of Iceland, and deserves to belong in everyones' CD collection.
on 26 December 2004
I must say I was quite surprised to hear how much controversy and division amongst fans this album has produced. In my eyes it's a highly responsive and effective work of art. Bjorks reaction to a post 9/11, politically insane, 21st century Earth is understandable - a return to time dot when we humans (or whatever we were then) had nothing except our primitive selves. No tools, no instruments, just what we were born with.
The power of the human (well, the power of the human voice, never mind the rest of us) is enough, and i think there is no more startling and chilling evidence of that than right here. We have the power to change, and to use what we have for the best.
By the way, there isn't a track on Medulla I don't like! I love how I can just let the whole album play, and it speaks as a whole, journeying on through. The sheer violent power of 'Where Is The Line'... the eerie, extra-terrestrial 'Submarine'... The vocals on 'Ancestors' send chills through me, reminding me AGAIN (yawn) about the power of the voice. We really do have an impressive little gadget in our necks, guys... lets use it to its potential, and to our rightful advantage?
on 2 September 2010
Ever since 1997's Homogenic fairly shattered the common public image of her as an unusual, jovial sort of Icelandic pop pixie, Björk followed her artistic muse wherever it took her - and it took her to some wondrous, innovative places. With Vespertine, Björk created a hushed, micro wonderland of electronic bleeps and bloops, augmented by harps and celestas and glockenspiels. The accompanying tour included an Inuit choir and a string section.
Understandably, she wanted to strip things back for her next project - but Björk being Björk, it wasn't a simple case of going acoustic. Instead, she opted to craft an album based around the human voice and, aside from a couple of instruments (a piano here and there), it's entirely structured around the voice. Some songs are a cappella featuring choirs, some feature vocal samples, and others feature beat-boxing or Inuit throat singing. The effect is to create an album that feels rich and full at the same time as feeling extraordinarily organic and 'real'; the idea of an all-vocals album sounds bare and simple, but 'Medúlla' is really quite complex.
It has a reputation for being wilfully difficult, obscure, and somewhat ugly, but this is one of Björk's most haunting, beautiful, and perhaps surprisingly melodic works. With instrumental accompaniment and the production techniques of her earlier records, it's not hard to imagine some of these songs on Post, such is their vibrancy, energy, and colour. Songs that particularly stand out in this regard include "Mouth's Cradle" and "Triumph of a Heart," which replace what would have been (un)conventional instrumental backing with swooping choral effects, beat-boxing, and instrument-imitation.
The all-vocal approach yields varied results. Opener "Pleasure Is All Mine" is lush and romantic, the propulsive "Where Is The Line?" ranks among her most ominous and oppressive songs, and "Who Is It" is joyous pop beauty. The lush romance invigorates "Oceania," while "Desired Constellation" recalls some of the haunting, intergalactic beauty of 'Homogenic' and 'Vespertine.' There are also a couple of choral gems - "Sonnets/Unrealities XI" and, in one of the most exquisite moments of her career, the utterly sublime "Vökuró," based on an Icelandic poem, is mournful and melancholy and hopeful all at once. It also finds Björk hitting raw emotional nerves in her native Icelandic.
It's not all pretty though. There are a couple of strange, off-kilter interludes, the quasi-nursery sing-song of "Öll Birtan" and the wheezing "Miðvikudags" providing some reassuringly weird lead-ups to respective pop gems. Then there is the frankly ugly "Ancestors," but curiously there's a strange beauty and humour to Tanya Tagaq's intense throat singing wrapping around Björk's wordless improvisation. The Robert Wyatt collaboration "Suubmarine" treads the line between deeply unorthodox and heavenly gorgeous; it's as sublime and haunting as you would hope from a Björk-Wyatt collaboration, and its sinister atmospherics provides another album highlight.
As a concept in itself, 'Medúlla' is a unique experiment and a lofty, ambitious idea - and one which could easily have fallen flat. But Björk pulls it off with customary aplomb. It's an album that is bound to be divisive, but there's a lot of beauty to the record. Granted, it's not conventional beauty, and there's some strangeness and ugliness too to contribute to the aura of authenticity (and Björk's warts-and-all ethos), but to dismiss this record as a vanity project would be a big mistake. It's one of the key works of her career and we should be thankful that there are still "pop" artists like Björk who take such bold artistic risks. An extraordinary achievement.
on 5 September 2004
Medulla always represented the unkown for Bjork fans. Debut was the beginning and Post was the end of Bjork's journey into her past. Once they were "out of the way" Bjork started creating her own genres and worlds. Homogenic was her loud abum and fans could therefore guess that, as a musician she would push herself to the limit by going to the polar opposite for her next album, that album became the fantastic, quiet, celebration of indoor living Vespertine. So, what next? What was left? The answer, voice, and just voice.
At first the idea sounds too ambitious, a purely a cappella album? But, no. Bjork has managed to turn the voice into the instruments she requires: piano, drums, etc, therefore the album is not as extreme as may first be suggested.
Track 1: 'The Pleasure Is All Mine' A chilled out, semi-calm introduction into the medulla web. Bjork sings sensually over the Icelandic Choir and Canadian throat singer Tagaq (allthough this sounds more like a pad or low string). Bjork teaches us 'when in doubt give.' A solid opening piece.
Track 2: 'Show Me Forgiveness' Bjork, Just Bjork and nothing but the Bjork. Bjork creates a deeply emotional mood, just by singing and humming, amazing.
Track 3: 'Where Is The Line?' A hard hitting, beat boxing materpeice. One of my favourites due to its urban beat and very action film-esque opera background. Half way through the opera cuts and the mood softens, there is a very child like whistle but then we're thrown back in with bjork's digitalised vocals "i want to be ... elastic" alongside hard crescendo-ing beats, then the opera kicks in again and we know were listening to something that wouldn't seem too out of place after Pluto on Homogenic (though maybe not AS extreme).
Track 4 and 5 :'Volkuro' and Oll 'Britan'. At first I didn't like these songs as they were both in Icelendic and, unlike with Gling Go, there are no instruments for your ears to "fall back" on. But, they are growing on me. I now enjoy the simple, Lord Of The Rings ish backing vocals on Volkuro and the way Oll Britan only uses modified versions of Bjork's own voice (allthough I must admit during most listens of this album I do skip this track).
Track 6: 'Who Is It?' This song is well, funky. The beat boxing is almost rhythm and blues and the melody is very catchy. This is the most commercial friendly song on the album and would suit being a single very well (but then again I did say the same thing about "It's Not Up To You").
Track 7: 'Submarine' Bjork gets too ambitious, another track I usually skip.
Track 8: 'Desired Constellation" My favourite song on the album without a doubt. A very soft, space sounding tune begins with the same sort of instant like-ability as the hook in "Cocoon." Bjork sings with an emotion over dose, repeating, almost conversation like "how am i going to make it right?" Audio Bliss.
Track 9: 'Oceania' Bjork's olympic theme told from the perspective of the ocean, which has no boundaries, races or religions, just like the olympics. Bjork starts, quite rightly by singing "you have done good for yourselves" a "big-up"to all the athletes I imagine. This is another danceable song with its simple beat and quirky choir melodies. A good choice for a single, very Selma Songs ish
Also: Check out the fantastic official remix of the track featuring KELIS!
Track 10: 'Sonnets/Unrealities XI' Bjork carrys on her like of EE Cummings (first shown in 'Sun In My Mouth' from Vespertine) with this high emotion ballad. The Icelandic Choir are used to give power and mood to the song, creating a very, very Iclandic saga.
Track 11: 'Ancestors' This song unfortunatly falls into the same category as 'Submarine' it is just too ... irregular, another one to be skipped.
Track 12: 'Mouth's Cradle' A very cool, electronic sounding number with (if this is possible) modern sounding choir tones. This song is very contemporary and very catchy. This track shows what the perfect level of voice manipulation is.
Track 13: 'Midvikudage' On the very verge of listenable, it sits on the edge of the pit 'submarine' and 'ansectors' fell into, wondering whether or not to jump in.
Track 14: 'Triumph Of The Heart' I love this song. With its funky cibo matto-esque beats and beastie boys styled voice manipulation it sits fantastically well with Bjork's commanding and yet joy filled vocals creating a track that has me reaching for the 'repeat' button every time! A great way to finish the album.
Do not be put off by the three songs I said were worth skipping. The bliss of the other tracks well makes up for this.
on 5 April 2006
It is almost impossible to view any film, listen to any piece of music or read any literature created post-September 11 without being informed of the dreaded events forever connected to that day. The senselessness of the violence, its display of the fragility of the human condition and the sinister machinations behind the attack made people so frightened, so self-aware and so angry that it ignited popular opinion and discussion. MTV icons such as Pharrell Williams and Eminem suddenly became pro-Democrat sounding boards whilst Britney Spears publicly stood by Bush and his whacking, turning Michael Moore into the new American movie superstar. Amid the paranoid flux of international threat and pop politics gone awry, Björk, who had moved to Manhattan just before the attack, withdrew into her own world with a second child on the way. After the floaty poetry of "Vespertine", as well as touring the premier opera houses of the world with that album, Björk was keen to get "primitive and silly" again, as she has said in interviews. And "Medúlla" was the result ...
"Medúlla" has become, and most likely will remain, a point of contention for Björk's fanbase (even the hardcore ones). Acapella albums rarely work, and are often accused of being relatively samey with a particularly heavy reliance on choirs. And since her auspicious "Debut", Björk's music has developed a reputation for moments of orchestral splendour mixed with the best state-of-the-art programming that money can buy. What people forget though is that if anyone outside of the nu-R&B/Soul collective was to make an acapella album, surely Björk and her distinctive voice would be the most appropriate to take on such a challenge. And even if she uses the choirs more than once (can't be helped when they sound this heavenly, though!) the result is her most punky, dance-flavoured album in a while, as well as her most political and contemporary.
"Medúlla", meaning "marrow" in Icelandic, serves up quite a mixed bag of pop songs, first off. Those keen to write off the album as Björk trying to be more leftfield than her reputation has already established really ought to listen to these pieces again because, aside from the instrumentation, Björk hasn't proved her pop royalty better since Post. The likes of "Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, My Pain On The Right)", "Mouth's Cradle" and "Triumph Of A Heart" boast the kind of buoyant melodies that Cathy Dennis would kill to concoct and are made all the more accessible with the choice of human beat boxes, which give them an almost-urban feel (Rahzel of The Roots, British beatmaker Shlomo and Japanese prodigy Dokaka all make indelible appearances). Alongside these we have some slow burner stunners where Björk allows her fellow vocalists to be even more experimental. In the avant-corner we have Canadian throat singer Tagaq and Faith No More's Mike Patton, but the ultra-special guest is Robert Wyatt, who puts in tremendous work on both "Submarine" and "Oceania". All this without a mention of the choirs (all arranged by Björk herself) heralds the Icelander's most varied and collaborative album to date.
The most beguiling thing about "Medúlla", however, lies in the themes prevalent throughout the songs themselves. Rather obviously, she has reserved songs almost exclusively about singing and songwriting for an acapella album, infusing them with as dramatic and textured a soundscape as can be found on either "Homogenic" or "Vespertine" thanks to the dearth of vocal talent on display. Key examples include "Pleasure Is All Mine", "Submarine" and "Triumph Of A Heart", each cementing Björk's placing as a unique vocal star. The most lyrically potent songs, however, exhibit explicit degrees of social consciousness and are about Björk and her relationship with the present world, more so than her previous albums. The most moving of these include "Vökuró", an Icelandic standard that has Björk sing to her daughter in her native tongue, and "Oceania", with Björk's melody and Sjón's ever-reliable lyrics (hear "Isobel", "Bachelorette" and the SelmaSongs album) providing a voice for the ocean, from which we have all evolved and continue to grow from. And proving that Bush-bashing is as inescapable as it is enjoyable, Björk commits said indulgence with "Mouth's Cradle" in an inspired coda, heralding the album's most epic moment. In its unselfish celebration of unity and uniqueness of the human voice, "Medúlla" is not only Björk's most upbeat album since "Debut", but easily registers as her most uplifting.
Although, "Medúlla" does have its fair share of rubs. Firstly, there is the vocal editing and programming, which often morphs the choirs and beatboxing into a keyboard signature that at times appears too sophisticated for the average human voice. You can take this as Björk cleverly commenting on the vocal distortions that tune many a pop star's voices towards unsingable octaves or most likely just feel ambivalent towards an acapella album relying so heavily on post-production software. And for the passing listener, the tracks sung exclusively in Björkian gibberish will seem like filler despite the harmonies that burst forth ("Öll Birtan" and "Midvikudags"). Granted, it was going to be hard to live up to "Vespertine", but "Medúlla" does offer up more stirring stuff than most pop stars can shake a stick at, and you cannot say fairer than that. As an "up-yours" to modern pop culture and a celebration of the voice, both what it can say and what it can achieve, "Medúlla" should be applauded.