1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 247

Medúlla, by Bjork
Suggested by Rob Wagner

Restrictions can be liberating.

Whenever I’m faced with a creative endeavour, I welcome a boundary. I find that pushing against something, even something arbitrary, can bear strange and exciting fruit.

For example, I might try writing a story with exactly one hundred words. Or giving myself exactly forty-five minutes to write a review. There’s a reason that writing prompts are popular: they help guide the muse.

A Cappella can be fun!

Personally, I love Pitch Perfect. It’s old-fashioned sassy entertainment. Pitch Perfect 2 is also good, although it loses points because Das Sound Machine obviously won the final showdown in the World A Cappella Championships. I smell envelopes. Pitch Perfect 3? Hard nope.

Vocal-only stylings has a definite place. Bobby McFerrin, The Flying Pickets, even Boyz II Men, each offers a tangible talent and some excellent songs. Except Boyz II Men, obviously. Screw those guys.

Medúlla is Bjork’s fifth album, and it has a strong central conceit. It’s constructed entirely with human vocals. In collaboration with a variety of vocal outliers, such as Mike Patton from Faith No More, and the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, the Icelandic dynamo turned her back on her customary electronica and created something remarkable.

“Remarkable” does not always translate as “good.”

Through fourteen peculiar and vaguely threatening tracks, Bjork and her friends create a cluster of noises that can only be described as extraordinary. There are pants, grunts, growls, trills, wheezes, hacks, snorts, harrumphs, buzzes, hums, hoots, coughs, hisses, barks, snuffles, yelps and screams, woven together in skilful and intricate ways to create songs that are, as I’ve said, remarkable. Remarkable in the sense that you will remark upon them.

“Huh,” you’ll remark. “that’s certainly… yeah.”

Sometimes, they’re almost beautiful. The choral Vokuro is a particular delight, as is Sonnets / Unrealities XI.  Sometimes they’re disquieting, as in Oll Birtan. Sometimes they’re even surprisingly mainstream, almost commercial, such as Who IS It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right).

But overall, like my standout track Ancestors, they’re just bizarre. Ancestors isn’t the best song on here. Arguably, it’s the worst. But it’s the song that definitely stands out, as it’s the most experimental and the clearest example of why I feel the album flounders.

Some folk will love this, I’m sure. Some folk will hate it. Me, I just feel cheated, as I’m a recent returnee to the delights of Bjork electronica. And, selfishly, that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want her at her oddest, I wanted her at her fabulously eccentric yet “normal” best.

Once I’ve a few more Bjork albums under my belt – she’s another six I’ve not yet sampled – I may warm to this remarkable album. But as things stand, I found it far more irritating than I did enlightening. Medúlla gets 4/10.

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