Björk‘s new album is her best since Post. Sorry, on Medúlla there are no shining standouts like “Isobel”, “Bachelorette” or “Pagan Poetry”, but as a multi-layered concept album, which it was supposed to be, it is a hands-down winner. First of all — it’s her most consistent, without the pretentious half-baked throwaways of Homogenic and unfulfilled avantgarde takes of Vespertine. And also the most original — and not only because of the a-cappella/human-beat-box stuff. That’s not much more than a well-performed gimmick. In fact, i’ve gotta admit that i’ve been doing it for years — entertaining myself with my mouth … ’nuff said. The important factor, however, is the songwriting. It always is. Paired with excellent sequencing it singles out Medúlla as a statement of successful sternness.
The chord progressions in the opener, “Pleasure is All Mine”, are perfectly placed to set the mood for the rest of the record and its beautiful melody is an astonishing proof of Björk’s avant-classical composition skills. “Show Me Forgiveness”, which follows, is one of Medúlla’s few really a-cappella tracks; after the overtly emotional opener its characteristic, unmistakably 100% Björkish melody and tone are truly soothing. Then comes “Where is the Line”, in which the artist displays her influence, direct or indirect, by Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother” — both feature a menacing neurotic choir. And then “Vökuró” lulls the listener again. Björk’s sincere singing in her inherently beautiful and noble mother-tongue is so revelatory, that one must marvel why did it take her sixteen years to put a complete Icelandic song on an international LP, and even now it wasn’t written by her (the last time it was the Sugarcubes’ “Taktu bensín elskan” on their brilliant 1988 release “Life’s Too Good”). No, i don’t have any smart ideas about her reasons, especially given her well-known boundless self-expression.
And then there are the very experimental “instrumentals”. There are no instruments there — only vocals, and although two of them have “icelandic” names, it’s all gibberish. Once again that unstoppable girl redefines the meaning of music, but she’s used to it. “Ancestors” is her boldest experiment ever — deep into a successful solo career she releases a track with no melody and no beat; it’s hard to call it even “ambient”, considering the extremes of Björk’s wimpers and Tagaq‘s snarls. It works, because self-expression kicks in again. Another instrumental, “Öll Birtan”, is my personal favourite on the album; the repeated “Hal. Hal. Hal.”, although not metronomic, sets the beat, and must be a good accompaniment to medidation (or sex, for that matter.)
“Submarine” is another look to the seventies, a perfectly produced duo with Robert Wyatt. They were bound to work together. That makes me wonder whether she will finally record something with Bowie or Fripp. And “Desired Constellation” and “Mouth’s Cradle” and “Sonnets / Unrealities XI” are perfected realizations of ideas from Vespertine, respectively — “Harm of Will”, “Heirloom” and “Sun in My Mouth”. Here they sound completely in place, not disturbing the flow and not self-indulgent for even a moment.