Here’s a mark of just how special Björk is, how defined her artistic character : she can invite any amount of guests into the studio – African junk-percussion groups, futurist hip-hop producers, improv drummers, emotive torch-singers, Warp Records techno heads - and still come out with an album that sounds like no one but herself. The Icelandic vocalist’s sixth solo studio album, Volta, is both a work of extraordinary, driven experimentation and glorious, singalong pop - outsider sounds carried into the mainstream through Björk’s sheer sense of vision.
The opening Earth Intruders sets the tone for Volta’s multi-faceted, guest-heavy approach. Produced by Timbaland and featuring percussion from collaboration-happy improv drummer Chris Corsano and Konono No.1, a Congolese shanty-town collective who build a polyrhythmic shuffle out of makeshift percussion and electric thumb-pianos, it’s an ecstatic, bounding war march, Björk chanting « We are the earth intruders / We are the paratroopers / Stampede of sharpshooters. » There’s more evidence on Volta that Björk’s in a percussive kind of mood – Corsano pops up on another tracks, I See Who You Are, while another freeform drummer, Brian Chippendale of experimental duo Lightning Bolt adds a distant, chaotic rumble to the Antony Hegarty duet, The Dull Flame Of Desire. But just as common is jarring techno beats, the warm horns of an Icelandic brass section, the or the twang of the African kora.
Ultimately, then, it’s easiest to understand Volta through the precocious personality of Björk herself. Here, she sounds energised and politicised – Hope is a philosophical tract about suicide bombers, while Declare Independence finds her chanting « Start your own currency / Make your own stamp / Protect your language / Declare independence » over robust electronic beats and glitches. But also, Volta is shot through with a very immediate, live-for-the-moment passion. On I See Who You Are, Björk celebrates her lover’s body before aging and death takes its toll : « Let’s celebrate now / All this flesh on our bones / Let me push you up against me tightly / And enjoy every bit of you. » Joyful, expressive, brave, intelligent : in short, another great Björk album.