It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and listened to a Björk album all the way through. Hell, I don’t think I even have since she released Vespertine in 2001. And it’s not that Björk doesn’t make hauntingly beautiful and stimulating music. The avant-garde Icelandic singer-songwriter’s past work has just been, well, a little difficult to listen to. One thing that sets Björk’s newest album Biophilia, released October 11, apart from others is its listenability.
This time around, Björk crosses yet another line in creativity and imagination, releasing Biophilia in the form of iPad and iPhone applications. Users can download each song as an interactive game/educational experience. The album, as we can derive from its title, was inspired by science and nature. Her songs, with titles like "Crystalline," "Solstice" and "Dark Matter," point quite literally at various themes of Earth and the cosmos. Different tracks show engaging visuals on the iPad or iPhone focusing on these themes.
This move has been heralded by music critics and the technology world as an ambitious stepping stone to a new era of music. The graphics, created by Puerto Rican multimedia engineers commissioned by Björk, are admittedly pretty cool. Gliding through the cosmosphere to the clanging of gongs and Björk’s slight cooing is a magical experience. As you navigate through the apps on the iPad, you can even manipulate the sounds in different parts of the songs. Each application does cost $1.99, and while it is worth it to buy one or two to play with, I would suggest keeping your focus on the music instead.
Björk’s voice is as consistently piercing as always, quivering and quavering throughout the adventurous nebulous that is Biophilia. At points, her delivery sounds almost alien, furthering the mystical feel that she strives to create in her work. The songstress steps gingerly from twangy guitar riffs and crooning about the cyclical nature of the moon in the opening track "Moon" (“To risk all is the end all and the beginning all”) to the achingly assonant “Virus,” where beautiful melodies serve to offset the jarring lines “like a flame that seeks explosives, as gunpowder needs a war / I feast inside you, my host is you.”
Some less impressive tracks are stuffed in the middle of the album, like the boringly droning "Dark Matter," and "Solstice," which introduces many interesting combinations of instruments, but is a bit too messy to appreciate.
However, Björk thoroughly makes up for it with the rest of the album. She plays a bewitchingly stoic Gaia in "Mutual Core" as she cantillates, "I shuffle around the tectonic plates in my chest / You know I gave it all, try to match our continents, to change seasonal shift." "Náttúra," the last song on the album, is a raw, guttaral masterpiece of ghostly moans and tribal drumming.
"Cosmogony” is Björk’s siren song and my favorite track off the album. “Cosmogony” is probably the most unusual song on the album. Starting out with magnificent hush of mysterious sound transitioning into a brass bit, Björk takes us gently by the hand and retreats into an angelic telling of creation myths. It may take a couple listens to get used to, and most Björk fans are used to the intensity of the enchantress' usual sounds, but “Cosmogony” is Björk’s mystical vocal prowess at its best.
While the new function of the iPad apps does a great job of bringing yet another dimension to Björk’s already-complex Biophilia, the album, teeming with imagination, holds up just fine on its own.