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Medulla by Bjork

Matt Crawley

25 Apr 2022

Bjork (pronounced Byerk, as in “Jerk”) has secured her seat amongst the renowned artistic influencers of our time, and this is clear in the recent release of the Robert Eggers’ film “The Northman”. Critically acclaimed with an all-star cast, it features the Icelandic singer as “The Seeress”, a kind of prophetess wearing an outfit that would not be out of place on one of her album covers. Despite only having a couple of minutes screen time, she has her own character poster, and throughout her online fan groups there has been tangible excitement, with people claiming to only watch the film until her scene was over. It feels apt then to revisit an overlooked Bjork album which, much like The Northman, focuses on the rawness and strength of the human spirit. This is the 2004 album Medulla.

How does it achieve this? The 14 tracks are almost completely a cappella; Bjork uses a wealth of choirs, including processed layers of her own voice, and the talents of guests including beatbox virtuoso Rahzel, Inuk throat singer Tanya Taguq, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton, who is arguably one of modern music’s most versatile voices. This is a seamless blend of avant grade classical music with hip hop beats and traditional world sounds. The music rarely feels empty. The opening track ‘Pleasure is All Mine’ is an ocean of sirens weaving in and out of each other. ‘Where Is The Line’ uses apocalyptic choral work punctuated by sci fi rhythms, with a melody both jarring and memorable. ‘Ancestors’ uses several takes of Bjork’s melancholy vocals while peppered with hard punching breaths, giving the impression of a spiritual meeting, a worship of ancient gods. The rising and falling of voices (provided by The London Choir) mimic the effect of a string orchestra in ‘Oceania’. As is the case with all her music, Bjork’s voice here has otherworldly shimmer that makes the simplest notes and words crackle with depth and longing, or something from another time altogether. By having voices as the main pieces that build this puzzle, the emotion and drama are accentuated in a way that is alluring and beautiful. It is a brave, multi-faceted piece of work that rewards multiple listens.

If your only experience of Bjork is 90s electronic pop (and being oh so quiet), this is a must listen, as it will transform not only an understanding of Bjork as an artist, but also an understanding of the power of the human voice.

Medulla by Bjork
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