Björk: Volta

BJÖRK [Photo: Erez Sabag]

Martial beats, brass orchestrations, and eclectic collaborations are the key elements of Björk's sixth album of outré electronic pop.



Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2007-05-08
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

Our favorite Icelandic pixie songstress is back with her sixth album. Volta is a grouchy affair, whether burning hot with big beats and booming vocals or brewing in a bad mood. Evaluated purely for its placement along her artistic trajectory, the record finds Björk successfully pushing into new realms, moving restlessly and relentlessly forward. As with 2004's Medúlla, however, the trails that she blazes are sometimes difficult for the listener to navigate. In case you hadn't noticed yet, Björk is out there.

Volta is an album full of pairings, as Björk collaborates with an eclectic array of guests to her fortress of laptopping solitude. The most exciting of these teamings is with Timbaland, who co-produced the two poppiest tracks on the album, lead single "Earth Intruders" and "Innocence". The former, which opens the record, finds the artist looking back over her shoulder at her bouncier work from Debut and Post. The beat is squelchy, yet tribal in the fluidity of its groove. Lyrically aggressive, Björk has joined an army of many, proclaiming, "We are the earth intruders / We are the sharpshooters" and "With our feet marching / Grinding the skeptics into the soil". The other Timbaland assist, "Innocence", begins with a sharp guttural cough for a beat, as synth sounds squiggle and squirm throughout the song. On both of these cuts, Björk's vocals growl and rise in ecstasy in ways we've sorely missed since the '90s.

Another match made in heaven occurs when Antony (minus his Johnsons) lends his unearthly voice to the mix. He is an archangel with a busted wing, an opera singer on skid row, a transgendered alien trilling a lullaby to slumbering humanity. Joining Björk and him on the Arvo Pärt-like "Dull Flame of Desire" are a decet of female brass players and singers, backed by a low, slow, skittering beat. The song is a smoldering beauty, looking at love "through the downcast lashes". On "My Juvenile", Björk duets again with Antony, accompanied only by fragile, broken keyboard phrasings. It's pretty enough, but not as compelling as "Dull Flame".

Björk also brought in Toumani Diabate, the stellar kora player from Mali, whose instrument sounds like a harp, but with a guitar's sharper attack. His contributions to "Hope" are beautiful, although the track itself isn't terribly engaging, as if Björk didn't bother to conceptualize a melody and, instead, just sings in a directionless, generically Björky way. From another continent is Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen's buddying up with Björk for the restrained "I See Who You Are". This track works better than "Hope", especially once the vocal overdubs and horns usher in a lusher, fuller sound.

BJÖRK [Photo: Erez Sabag]

Some songs on Volta are just Björk, relying mostly on herself and her 10 ladies of brass. Her singing soars again on "Wanderlust", as soft-shoe breakbeats dart and jab along with medieval trumpeting tones. "Declare Independence" is a pissed-off foot-stomper, but the lyrics are condescending and worthy only of bumper stickers. Björk tells the downtrodden people to "Declare independence / Don't let them do that to you" and "Raise your flag / Higher, higher". Yes, of course! Gaining political autonomy from an oppressor is just that simple. But it's a good live track, and would probably sound killer pumping out of a pair of Goodwill speakers strapped to the back of some well-strafed rebel Humvee. "Vertebrae by Vertebrae", meanwhile, marches to the beat of a very different drum loop, along with some really dark and prickly blurts of brass. Compositionally, it's interesting, but it's damn hard to actually like.

And herein lies the art versus entertainment debate. While its reflexively easy to say that, oh sure, music is an art form, in execution it frequently falls closer to the "please don't make me use my brain" end of the continuum where much of television lies. Björk, though, creates with the mind frame of a painter, with at least as much concern for the possibilities of the palette as for what the finished piece might communicate. If you get it, great; if not, at least you've exposed yourself to a potentially enriching experience. The worth of such an experience lies in the ears of the listener. By no measure is Volta a great album, but it is quite good. And, the deeper you delve, the more it has to offer.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.