Björk’s Fossora

The Saturday Paper, 17 septembre 2022

As the song progresses, ratcheting up in speed and intensity, its two disparate parts – the organic and the harshly inorganic, the lung-powered and the profoundly mechanical – begin to coalesce into one furious, roiling beat. On a provided lyrics sheet, the couplet “We find our resonance / And we do connect” suggests a kind of woven link between music and lyrics.

These lyrics foreground an album that, in its most powerful moments, finds Björk trying to make peace : not just with her mother’s death and her new place as leader of her matrilineal line, but with uncouth or uninterrogated parts of her psyche. On “Sorrowful Soil” and “Ancestress” she charts lines between the women who came decades and centuries before and the woman she has to embody going forward.

The former, a song largely built from mournful, overlapping choral parts, sketches a cosmic view of motherhood that is both deeply symbolic and tauntingly palpable (“In a woman’s lifetime she gets 400 eggs but only two or three nests … This is emotional textile, self-sacrificial”). The latter song pays complex, heartbreaking tribute to Hildur in terms that feel bracingly intimate : “The doctors she despised placed a pacemaker in her,” she sings, countering lines about her “ancestress’s clock” with disarming details about her mother’s final days. These tracks, which move so deftly between personal, almost gory detail and zoomed-out vistas that feel akin to traditional folksong, encapsulate what makes Björk such a specific, celebrated lyricist, taking a moment and making it shatteringly universal.

These sensitive, remarkably open songs bristle against Fossora’s seamier side. “Victimhood”, perhaps the best song here, has the queasy, ominous atmosphere of a fantasy score : clarinets flood in from the edge of the frame like fog in a barren forest ; a muffled, minimal metronome track – barely a beat as much as a discomfiting, ever-present joint crack – keeps uneasy time. In a discordant, incantatory tone, Björk sings about emotional suffering : “Rejection left a void that is never satisfied / Sunk into victimhood / Felt the world owed me love.” As with “Atopos”, “Victimhood” seems to obliquely nod towards culture war flashpoints, at the same time as it raises questions about the wounded, subjective artistic vantage that seemed to power Vulnicura. The profound empathy of Fossora – and the entirety of Björk’s catalogue, really – suggests that this is not a surface-level disquisition ; instead, it feels like a profound reckoning with the modes of artmaking Björk has engaged with over the years, and the reasons she may have felt the need to switch gears so quickly from one distinct style to another around the middle of the previous decade. As with much of Fossora, there is a kind of shrewd meta-ness to “Victimhood” : if Björk herself invites interrogation of her own work, it feels much harder for fans or critics to treat her as an artist out of time or wilfully out of step with culture. If the most recent suite of Björk records says anything it is that although her more orchestral or conceptual music may feel girded, it is often anything but, open to influence and revealing to those willing to pick at its seams.

Unlike Vulnicura or Utopia, though, the landscape of Fossora contains more texture, more peaks and valleys. It is not purely heartbroken, like Vulnicura, or purely joyful, like Utopia ; instead, it sits longer with uncategorisable loneliness and discomfort, ending on a note of wistful, unvarnished finality. “Her Mother’s House” acts as a farewell to both Hildur and Ísadóra, the latter of whom co-wrote the song with Björk. It’s a calm, painfully elegant choral-and-clarinet lament – a kind of eulogy to a memory, or to a vastly different life. After an album’s worth of superimposed pasts and futures, it feels like a narrative written from the twinned perspectives of Björk and Hildur, as well as the other matriarchs of their line. “When a mother wishes to have a house with space for each child / She is only describing the interior of her heart,” Björk sings, Ísadóra’s voice overlapping and harmonising with hers. It’s a simple, humble, totally staggering line – an expression of pure humanity, as far from alien as could be.

par Shaad D’Souza publié dans The Saturday Paper