telegraph.co.uk

Björk : Biophilia, CD of the week ★★★★★

Tiny, elusive and prone to strange bursts of intense energy, Björk is pop’s own subatomic particle. She’s capable of creating the kind of pure, uncomplicatedly emotional beauty that bypasses the brain and fizzes straight into the central nervous system.

But her music can also be counterintuitive, abstract, atonal : difficult to get your head around. What has remained consistent about this Icelandic oddball is that she’s not happy unless she’s challenging herself and her listeners.

So after the wild, tribal beach party of her last album, Volta (2005) she’s made a profoundly controlled, private and theory-driven record.

The science-themed Biophilia is a multimedia project pairing 10 songs with corresponding iPad applications on which Björk has collaborated with developers, scientists, writers, inventors, musicians and instrument makers. There will be a website, live shows and educational workshops.

But let’s just focus on the music here, which Björk has based on algorithms found in nature and fed through a combination of electronic and organic instruments.

It sounds, as she admits, like a recipe for disaster. But – shot through with Björk’s tangible sense of wonder – it’s surprisingly accessible, hypnotic and beautiful if you give it time and concentration : the audio equivalent of looking through a microscope at crystals growing.

The opener, Moon, is a melancholic stargazers’ meditation, which layers Björk’s idiosyncratic vocals over a brittle, icy harp. As she sings of cycles of rebirth, her voice is prayer-full of human yearning. Yet its peculiar, glottal angularity puts you in mind of astronomical charts.

The first single, Crystalline, starts out all twinkling, chinking prettiness then hardens into a burst of frantic drum’n’bass. Björk’s ever-eccentric lyrics are energised by the poetry of science, giving us lines like “sonic branches, murmuring drown/ crystallising galaxies spread out like my fingers”. Ever playful, on the seductively melodic Virus she has fun with the idea of a fatal love affair between an organic host and it’s inorganic invader : “Like a mushroom on a tree trunk as the protein transmutates/ I knock on your skin and I am in… ohh ooh”.

Best is the climactic Mutual Core, on which, against a pipe organ, Björk sings : “I shuffle around the tectonic plates/ You know I gave it all trying to match our continents”.

So OK, Biophilia is wilfully weird. If you heard some of its most outlandish moments on drive-time, you’d think aliens were trying to contact you through your satnav.

But if you pulled over and closed your eyes, you might begin to feel a marvellous connection to all kinds of universal forces.

Helen Brown

publié dans telegraph.co.uk - 06.10.2011

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