Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v04n10)
Rick On The Records - by Rick Zeigler
posted: May 18, 2007
BJORK-Volta Bjork has been performing and recording since she was thirteen years old, first as a solo prodigy, then in the semi-successful Icelandic indie-rockers The Sugarcubes, and finally on her own with her major-label debut, Debut. She has rarely been out of the public eye for any length of time since. But this is not due to her consistently churning out radio-friendly tunes, mushy love ballads, or anthemic rockers. Rather, she has continued to follow her own idiosyncratic path. Her personality and, more importantly, her talent drags her coterie of admirers along with her. Some dropping off, but many more come around as admirers of her artistry. As her solo albums have progressed, her adventurous muse has slowly led her away from the simpler song-structures and catchiness of her first few records in favor of exploring new sonic avenues. These culminate in her last album, Medulla, which was constructed from vocal sounds as the only instruments.
Volta's pre-publicity has been hailing it as some sort of return to her earlier, more dance-oriented days, presumably due to her collaborations with Timbaland - as hot a name on the contemporary hip-hop scene as there is. But Volta is not that album and, given how glorious it is, one can only be thankful that Bjork is continuing on her own merry path, and that we can travel it along with her. Nearly all the songs on Volta are crafted with a large sense of space, most being based on fairly simple programmed beats, light, sometimes retro synth patterns, voice, and the judicious use of a ten-piece all-female horn section. Volta strikes one as being more about feel than about songs, more about creating an exhilarating atmosphere that celebrates life, creativity, and exploration through music than about writing good hooks. And there is an unrestrained joyousness and passion in Bjork's singing that is unusual and refreshing to hear in this distanced, ironic age.
Volta opens with one of the Timabland co-productions, "Earth Intruders," and it is a treat. The sounds of marching feet dissolve into a furious muddy beat, and Bjork sings, "We are the earth intruders/stampede of resistance/ we are the canoneers/ necessary voodoo" while the delicate likembe playing of African troupe Konono No. 1 gives the song a lightness of touch that somehow melds with the driving rhythm. This segues into "Wanderlust" (silences between songs are essentially absent), opening with the sound of foghorns, waves, and gulls, with the foghorns morphing ever so slowly into instrumental horns (the unity of music and "everyday" sounds is a near-constant in Bjork's work). Bjork then sings what could be seen as her manifesto of sorts: "Wanderlust/can you see a pattern/relentlessly restless/restless relentlessly." This tune is followed by the most delicate piece on the album, "The Dull Flame of Desire," an ode based on a 19th century poem, and immeasurably aided by the nearly operatic singing of Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons, winners of last year's Mercury Prize in Britain for best new artist). But this is a 19th century poem with a difference, as its last minutes are taken over by a frenzied tom-tom pattern. "Innocence" follows, being constructed of little more than a simple electro beat, programmed sounds, and Bjork's voice. Its simplicity is especially startling when one realizes that it is another one of the co-creations with Timbaland. Chinese percussion and string instruments, and more horns, are the primary musical vehicles carrying "I See Who You Are" through its elegant statements celebrating love and sensuality. One song, "Declare Independence", does break with Volta's largely upbeat ambience. It has an angrier, almost challenging feel characterized by the assertion present in the title.
None of Volta's tunes are going to be ones you will find yourself singing in the shower. The overall joyful, ecstatic mood of the album, however, stays with you long after its over. Indeed, this is one of the few albums in a long time in which the mood and feel stays embedded in your head long after its finished, even though you are hard-pressed to remember any of the particulars of the songs (just try thinking of the mood of any album without recreating one or more of its songs in your head). Volta is a superb, unusual, original, creative, and adventurous album created by an artist who embodies all these traits. And like the best musical artists, you never know where she is going to go next. You should come along for the ride.
Rick Zeigler, along with his wife, Jeanne, owns Indy CD and Vinyl at 806 Broad Ripple Avenue. Back in his musician days, his band opened for the likes of U2, XTC, Gang Of Four, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, and, um, Flock Of Seagulls, among others. You can read all of Rick's reviews at www.indycdandvinyl.com. Email your music questions and comments to rick@BroadRippleGazette.com