Having initially crept out, bit by bit, via an interactive app, along with a pile of remix 12”s, by the time ‘Biophilia’ actually arrived, it was nice to just sit and play the bloody album. Once you strip back all of the collaborations, soundtracks and remix projects, ‘Biophilia’ is actually only Björk’s seventh solo studio album. Fresh from the throat-singing and beat-boxing of the unfairly maligned behemoth that was ‘Medulla’, and 2007’s ‘Volta’, which sounded like the building of an industrial fridge, it is a relatively straight-forward affair. Although, everything is relative when it comes to Björk, having given the album its name because she thought the word meant “feeling up nature or something.”
The glorious chiming of custom-built instrument the gameleste – a bronze take on the celesta, in which traditionally steel tune-bars are hit by various mallets – and pipe organs operated by computer programmes ensure that her habit of sounding utterly unlike anybody else remains very much intact throughout ‘Biophilia’. However, for an album so rooted in new technologies and ideas, it sounds beautifully warm and compellingly human. The processional ‘Cosmogony’, with its pitch-shifting brass mirroring lines like “heaven’s bodies whirl around me,” is a beguiling demonstration of her attempts to meld science to nature.
‘Virus’, a love song from the perspective of the “sweet adversary” itself – “I adapt, contagious, you open up, say welcome” – is quite possibly the prettiest thing I’ve heard all year, completely removed from the harsh, squashed and confrontational sounds of ‘Volta’. When the machine-gun beats do break through on ‘Mutual Core’, they’re augmented by a hymnal organ riff and a soaring, unprocessed and unleashed vocal which will leave you breathless. Her capacity for wondrous lyrics delivered in deceptively simple fashion remains: “my romantic gene is dominant and it hungers for union” she intones on ‘Thunderbolt’, as if trying out each word for size.
While much of the fuss around the album has centred on its innovative and hugely interactive app release, this music really doesn’t need any window dressing because it’s as good a collection of songs as she has put her name to in ten years. Having finished the album, Björk decided she wasn’t entirely happy with it as a purely audio experience, admitting that through all of the twists and turns of making the interactive version she had lost sense of the album as a whole. Deciding it needed a bit more bass and a bit more of a low end thud to it, she held up its release and went back to the drawing board. An absolutely remarkable artist, for whom the terms ‘genius’ and ‘unique’ are not journalistic hyperbole but simple fact, Björk is taking music to a place where we should all gladly follow.