Bjork may be best known to the wider public for wearing a swan dress to the 73rd Academy Awards, a frock so infamous it has an entire wikipedia page dedicated to it. But beyond the dress exists an artist who has morphed into numerous different styles. Each album she creates is an exploration of a different sound — her lasting power is her ability to so cohesively embody different musical concepts, from pop to electronica to experimental. Her discography is captivating precisely because each album has something so unique to offer.
We might be able to call 1997 a good year for music, as even Pitchfork gave out three 10’s. And Homogenic was one of those well-deserved elusive 10’s. This album, Bjork’s third solo album, is a departure from her previous music, focusing more on the combination of electronic beats and string arrangements (courtesy of the Iceland String Octet). It tries to encapsulate her home country of Iceland into music — its folk traditions (seen in her speak-singing style) and especially its isolated nature. The string orchestrations illuminate Bjork’s deep passion, especially in songs like “Joga,” while the electronic beats give a funky groove. This layering is particularly intriguing in “5 Years,” where violins play a screeching tremolo over a descending scale, as a funky beat blasts over it all in an extended instrumental closing phrase. Bjork’s voice is unique — her melodies do not occupy a large range, moving rapidly from a high belt back to what is almost spoken word. What she gives us is a large range of vocal style. The atmosphere of the album can most aptly be described as lush minimalism.
Homogenic has been analyzed and overanalyzed, but for good measure. It is a force to be reckoned with, an album whose sounds still sound groundbreaking 20 years later. You can find something new on it every time you listen, but its experimentalism does not overshadow its grooviness and pop. Bjork’s screaming in “Pluto” over an extraterrestrial beat still somehow manages to feel like an eclectic club hit. Its ability to last comes not only from its experimental texture, but also from its catchiness.
Bjork recently released a new song, “the gate,” to mixed reviews. Some NPR Music Facebook fans acted as if it’s the end of the world. “Go back to Post!” they shouted into the void. But that’s not Bjork and that will never be Bjork. Her music was always experimental, yet catchy — and now she’s gone out and made some completely new sounds. But with progress comes polarization. Maybe someday we’ll even be calling them “catchy.”
Check out the video for “the gate,” the lead single off her new album due in November: