Completion of a great work-of-art cannot be easily matured by instinct alone. This is especially when many hands are involved in fashioning the project. Is there really such a thing as a complete work of art, anyway? Perhaps a musical compilation of an artist who’s garnered an explicitly avant-garde career should not display the near-sighted accessories of musical potential, i.e. illuminating the experiment rather than the complete work. Wagner coined the term as Gesamtkunstwerk. In other words, this survey of accomplishment ought to provide the listener with a foundation of sorts—an effervescent biography of information or CV of achievement. What I’m getting at is a question of what makes something complete, and Björk demonstrates her musical prowess in this profound way. She exists both as a brilliantly vigorous musician and as the meek kitten (or swan, rather) of popular eccentrics. Coincidentally, her fans that chose from singles to create her greatest hits album compiled this bibliography. In her first compilation of record success Björk takes the stage as a consummate and self-effacing pro.
Taking up a petite facet of contemporary music Björk leads the circus of dreamy pop/rock/orchestral/dance-infused clatter (the genres continue). The wonderment and originality of her music still shapes the growing interest of her fan base, young and old alike. With wizard-like panache she seizes ambient purrs, electro-beats, percussive blasts, horned melodies, stringed harmonies and stirs them into a cauldron heated with her own imaginative flare. With the help of a fantastic assembly team the result is a cacophonous mixture of scintillating sensations, newly realized impressions and fountains of sweet flowing sounds. Upon hearing her music we may reminisce about things like clouds in the sky, blankets of unraveled sex, tender growth spurts, robotic massages, framed kisses, heart pulses, leaves falling, and currents of pleasure or an unborn baby smiling inside its mother.
It is not unknown that Björk’s musical career began with the Icelandic punk band, the Sugarcubes, far before she started recording as a solo artist. However, to grasp her evolutionary output and sheer resonance as Electronic Diva #1 it is important to take note of her various metamorphoses in the past decade. Starting with the fresh young London club beats of Debut(1993), to the matured self-introspection and international power of Post(1995), toward the reinventing dynamics of Homogenic(1997) and eventually the femininity that silhouettes Icelandic echoes in Vespertine(2001).
Forging through the massive straits and glacial rocks that form Iceland, her music reveals a cerebral “soundscape” of wind-chimed compositions wrought with emotion and sensitivity. Each song is intricately manufactured to the tiniest tap, squeal and swell. After all, Björk is, in her unique self, an electronic sorceress—a fantastic mind-bender of musical genres. She is an immense talent otherwise known as a humming electronic elf.
Björk begins her Greatest Hits album saying “all is full of love”—a blatant, worldwide celebratory symbol of the chaotic and beautiful ways of the universe. We are reminded of the tragic sense of nature or the blind nectar of love’s ability to blur the senses. Life’s voyage through the stones of history towards the annals of electronic music. Her lyrics, “You’ve been given love/You’ve been taken care of” are sung to us as if we are her children or her lover. Whether this phrase is directed to the listener or to the lover in Björk’s imagination does not matter, because it is only a pre cursor to love that pervades throughout the album.
That fans chose these singles is not surprising. However, the album neglects some of my favorite tracks from Debut such as “Crying”, “One Day” and “Violently Happy”. Of course, it’s the dancer in me who prefers the house-tinged base line and soulful hum of those tracks. Additionally, the Underworld remix of “Human Behavior” is a masterpiece of evolving dance floor chemistry. But with these chosen greatest hits we are witnesses to an emotionally heavier side of Björk. That said, the darkly sublime mystery of “Pagan Poetry” channels certain inane powers of life experience that can only be found by wandering the tundras of Iceland.
The transition from track to track is poignantly seamless and adequate to the mood each track evokes. The second track, “Hyperballad”, (my favorite) reminds us why Björk’s dance hits stay with us. The constant beat of the drum is in trance-like motion—endlessly lucid and fantasizing.
In songs like “Joga” and “In Our Hands” Björk’s distinctly broken voice dances nakedly across the canvas like a newborn child—virginal and sensually full of life. Beautifully chimed ticks, scratches, clangs and lush melodic vibrations support her breathy voice. With layers and layers of nicely timed loops, rings, and jingles she has concocted a stereophonic world of audible feasting.
Björk’s raw, almost aching bellows in “Pagan Poetry” opens a novel of unaffected emotion—an animal-like quality captured masterfully in the human voice. Björk has perfected the technique of melodic hollering.
Another example of her unique approach to design would be the bursting of choral canonic phrasing, looping, and high register pitched sounds in “Hidden Place”. These choral developments have a haunting affect on the ear.
This compilation deserves accolades, not only for a free sense of style but for putting, in such proximity, the surest and most arresting songs of Björk’s solo musical life thus far (give or take a few). Björk has laid down the law of acid-fused dream pop/rock sensibility—a blueprint of the pleasure in herself. Hand in hand this compilation finds itself among the beautifully silent miracles that invade the audible minds of this generation. This is the kind of compilation that you could give to your lover or your grandmother. And I’m sure Björk would approve of my grandmother kicking it back to “Isobel” on a warm Nebraska spring day. Or sitting amazingly teary-eyed to “Venus As a Boy”. Björk’s reverence is made clear by silent worship. She is, all at once, an ancient muse, a suckling flower, and a rocket scientist in the world of digital and anarchic melodies.
// Notes from the Road
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