BJORK – Medúlla

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"So, then comes Medúlla, where she stops using her string orchestras, celestas and harps completely. Almost the only thing heard on the album is the human voice. Sampled, recreated, layered, manipulated, but even in its most electronic manifestations, it all sounds very laryngeal. Not as one larynx, though, because Björk has attracted an impressive list of guest vocalists on the album. Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq breathes and growls rhythmically, Mike Patton does some of his most positively evil-sounding voices, and beat boxers Rahzel and Dokaka provide two very different cultural types of urban beats.

Because of these guest vocalists it’s hard to describe exactly what kind of a genre Medúlla should belong to: it’s tribal, it’s urban, at times virtually sacred but overall it is very experimental. Indeed, the album may be better put into a category with Stockhausen’s Stimmung or Meredith Monk’s work in its untameable audacity.

That’s not to say this is as acquired a taste as Stockhausen or Meredith Monk. Björk can still craft some of the most amazing pop tunes while not straying from the concept she has created. ‘Who Is It (Carry my Joy on the Left, Carry my Pain on the Right)’ is an incredibly memorable and hummable pop tune, and the hip-hop flavoured album closer ‘Triumph of a Heart’ sticks as easily as any melody Björk has ever created. The amazing accessibility of these songs as well as their purity on its own is a proof that Björk is on the right side of the very fine line she is treading going through with this experiment.

On the other side there are the a cappella, stripped-down experiments. These are mostly ambient pieces except for the solo melody ‘Show Me Forgiveness’, which reflects on artistic doubt and self-forgiveness. 'Öll Birtan’ is a layered, luminous waltz which plays with improvised lyrics and modal counterpoint. If you dislike Björk’s gibberish outbursts this may not be quite for you, but especially in those outbursts she really shows what her voice can say without really saying anything. The duet ‘Ancestors’ showcases Tagaq’s and Björk’s vocal harmonies with feral, primordial groans, a tender, hopeful piano in the background and unfolds in waves, with crescendo’s, decrescendo’s, leaps and a tensely evolving structure. ‘Miðvikudags’ is perhaps the most nervous and unsettling vocal experiment on here, with a cooing melody, clicks and strident dissonances emerging from layering multiple melodies, like in Maurice Ravel’s piece ‘Frontispice’ (listen to it, it follows the same procedure).

Then there are the song experiments, the songs betwixt both categories. The dark, tender reverie ‘Pleasure Is All Mine’ that serves as an opener to this album and introduces us with ambiguous major and minor harmonies, leading to a jazzy, laid-back and slightly feminist song about generosity: “when in doubt give” leads to the tam-tam hit at the climax of the number before it disintegrates again. The aggressive segue to this is ‘Where Is The Line’, which is a brutal song about someone who asks too much and abuses generosity. The harsh atonality in sections of this number makes it one of the most poignant moments of the album. The electronic manipulation creates a dirty, even icky atmosphere. This is a song that refuses to settle down and accept, which makes it all the more intriguing. It’s followed by one of the moments of utter stillness on the record: a choir arrangement of a voice-and-piano song by Jorúnn Viðar, the Icelandic composer. Björk’s Icelandic pronunciation, with [r]’s like a tender mountain stream, add a wonderful sound quality to the impeccable arrangement, which shifts through major and minor before finally settling."

- perUmbram,

A1 Pleasure Is All Mine
A2 Show Me Forgiveness
A3 Where Is The Line
A4 Vökuró
B1 Öll Birtan
B2 Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right)
B3 Submarine
B4 Desired Constellation
C1 Oceania
C2 Sonnets / Unrealities XI
C3 Ancestors
D1 Mouth's Cradle
D2 Miðvikudags
D3 Triumph Of A Heart