Björk is the Madonna of the alternative world. With every album, she transforms her sound and image, moving from pop-culture-referencing indie queen (Post) to cold, electronic dominator (Homogenic) to gentle romantic (Vespertine). And like Madonna, she seems to be in a musical rut. After the obtuse, vocal-filled Medúlla and the supposed comeback but actually limpid Volta, Björk found herself losing influence and fans.
Her latest album, Biophilia, is purported to finally be a return to her past glory — with melodies that are catchy, vocals that screech and wail and beats that sound out of this world. And she has gone all-out with a digital extravaganza. The album serves as the foundation of a multimedia project that uses apps for each song, art installations and live shows.
Even though the electronics may sound familiar, Björk also used tablets and instruments like the Tesla coil to conduct music. Essentially, it’s Björk’s middle finger to the traditional LP album, attempting to create an interaction with listeners. Yet, for all that hubbub, the music is what it comes down to and Biophilia does indeed succeed.
Like Terrence Malik’s recent film “Tree of Life,” Biophilia attempts to tell history of nature — from the moon to human DNA — through the scope of a modern lens, an interesting twist despite the futuristic, tech-heavy origins of the album. Single “Crystalline” features dubstep-tinged electrobeats about, of all things, the forming of gems. Yet, it is probably her most wicked single in about a decade as the songs turns into jittering beats in the end. “Solstice,” like its representation of gravity, lures the listener into its calming, gentle lullaby. However, Björk sometimes overindulges in the avant-garde, like the sagging “Cosmogony” and the inert “Dark Matter.”
For all the talk of the apps and the post-modern artistic ideas, Biophilia stands up surprisingly well as a standalone album, proving that Bjork remembered joy of music and that she once sang, “My headphones, they saved my life.”