Monday, January 21, 2008

BJORK — VOLTA

BJORK — VOLTA

Remember when Bjork was awesome? Debut: awesome. Post: Awesome. Homogenic: Awesome. Then came that movie, and the anti-awesome Vespertine. Then it was Medúlla, an album that replaced awesome results with interesting process. And now we have Volta.

It starts off strong enough, with the Post-worthy, quirky dance beat of Earth Intruders. At least, the first 4:35 of Earth Intruders is fun before turning into a minute and a half of found sounds (foghorns, seagulls and boats). And that's where it would all fall apart if classic Bjork Wanderlust didn't follow. Ok, we can forgive the stupid boats, because we've waited about a decade for this Bjork to return. Skittery drums, blown out gravel bass, horn loops and singing about not sitting still. Bjork in a can!

But someone shook the can and it all fizzed out after that. Everything is flat — at best — after Wanderlust. At worst, some of it is godawful. You're begging for boat sounds when the honesty-in-advertising Dull Flame of Desire starts. It's a duet with some Antony Hegarty(?), a bunch of horns and Brian Chippendale adding ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the song. If you get Chippendale for drums or art, you're looking for something specific. This is like MY drums. And then there's Hegarty... who might have the single most annoying voice ever recorded. hE aCtUaLlY sInGs LiKe ThIiIiIiIiIs.

Innocence gets us back to fun and weird until I See Who You Are come on with no rythym, no structure, just disparate textures working against one another for a slow, long mess. Vertebrae By Vertebrae and Pneumonia get us even further away from actual songs, like the actor's game of slowing Happy Birthday into an unrecognizable string of sylables.

Then we get back to a clubby sound with Hope. "What's the the lesser of two evils? If a suicide bomber made to look pregnant kills her target or not." It might be possible to sing that line without sounding completely ridiculous. Maybe it Bjork had at least tried to find the beat? At least it would've helped. I can guarantee you that the greater of three evils might just be this song. Have you ever seen a "news" report about a balding, middle-aged white man trying to connect with his kids by rapping about racial equality and the need to brush your teeth? Bjork dives in, head-first, without looking to see if their's water in the pool. Or if there's even a pool there at all.

Even the half-hearted industrial clubbish Declare Independence can't avoid being some sort of battle cry to Iraqis who just need to "make (their) own flag" and "ignore the patronizing" of the "damned colonists." And then refrains of "raise your flag. higher. higher." for about two minutes.

The album ends with a return of Antony Hegarty and about six overlapping near-melodies that have nothing to do with one another. It's like being punished for listening to the whole album.

I always bought Bjork albums without even thinking twice if I should. Even when things didn't work out well, her missteps were always more interesting than a lot of other people's safe successes. Not every song on Debut or Post is perfect. Homogenic is more consistent, but lacks that serious punch. Vespertine is at least listenable. Medúlla is accapella computer music, for crissakes!

But Volta is 70% unlistenable. These aren't interesting failures, these are just failures. I'm actually kind of angry at this album, it's so bad. That's not even a remotely rational response at all. It doesn't even seem like a proportional response. But I'm actually angry at this album.

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