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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Björk -- Medúlla


I've been doing these reviews for four months, and none have given me headaches like these Björk ones. Her music is not only hard to describe, but the ways in which it has been described are extremely repetitive. Not only do I need to describe the hard to describe, but I have to describe differently from the sludge of the masses. Medúlla might be the easiest of all Björk's albums to describe, but also perhaps the most difficult to enjoy--and for the same reason: Medúlla is simply an album of vocals. There are a few light instrumental touches, but for the most part, the beats, basslines, vocals, and sounds of Medúlla are all made by humans.
This ends the skyward trajectory Björk has been on since Post. She seemed like some kind of beautiful alien singing upon and about alien landscapes. On Medúlla she and the music sound unmistakably human. Honestly, this isn't really what I want from Björk. I want a foreigness made intimate, not a humanity revealed, which is what Medúlla does for Björk. Her age and the limits of her estimable vocal ability finally begin to show as everything but voice is stripped away. A lot of the songs here are quite good. The best have a medieval, late fall feel, while the worst sound like a class project, the kid in the back doing the beat, the two dorks in the corner doing the trumpets. Sometimes the best and worst qualities happen in the same song, but the song is still somehow good.

Making something of all this can be difficult. It's easy to enjoy going along with things up until around the ninth track, "Oceania." It's clear that this song is supposed to be a single, but something about all the singing gets a little stale, and the feeling never really leaves over the next five tracks. Maybe if Björk had culled a little more tightly, this collection could be on par with her previous albums. Some of the short tracks sound completely useless, and could easily be ditched in order to keep out the voice fatigue that sets in. This is a shame, though, because up through the beautiful ballad, "Desired Constellation," which breaks the rules and uses a sample as a backbone, things really do work. That's eight songs of almost nothing but vocals, and they all work together. Maybe picking the best two out of the next six would have been a better idea than padding the material out with the most tracks on a Björk album ever.
Regardless, Medúlla is an obvious must have for Björk fans, and even those curious new listeners may find something to enjoy here. Just don't expect to be able to spin the whole album without taking a break.
Another difficult Björk review down, and I hope it is not as difficult to read as it was to write.

2004 Polydor
1. Pleasure Is All Mine 3:26
2. Show Me Forgiveness 1:23
3. Where Is the Line 4:41
4. Vökuró 3:14
5. Öll 1:52
6. Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) 3:57
7. Submarine 3:13
8. Desired Constellation 4:55
9. Oceania 3:24
10. Sonnets/Unrealities XI 1:59
11. Ancestors 4:08
12. Mouth's Cradle 3:59
13. Midvikudags 1:24
14. Triumph of a Heart 4:04

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