Album review: Bjork’s ‘Biophilia’
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The sound is uniquely hers, but impressive as it is, it may have lost the ability to surprise.
On her new album, Icelandic singer-composer-producer-sound-fetishist Björk moves deeper into the sonic abyss of her own creation, a so-called secret place that with each passing release seems to crystallize her aesthetic even further. An hourlong work that twinkles and shimmers, “Biophilia,” her seventh release, continues to explore a universe she’s built from scratch.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with the singer over the last two decades, you know what you’ll be getting in a new Björk full-length — at least musically: expansive electronic/acoustic structures that move in Frank Gehry-esque swoops as digital shards of rhythms and pretty sounds fly through your ears.
“Cosmogony,” for example, features the requisite bass rumbles, echoed choruses, a few different creation myths — “They say back then our universe was a cold black egg until the god inside burst out and from its shattered shell he made what became the world we know” — and enough majestic noises to suggest depth. “Thunderbolt” sounds like an ancient Christian dirge rocketed into outer space. She’s a master of hearing, for sure.
For “Biophilia,” she’s gone further into her imagination by creating not only music and videos but also an application for iPad and other Apple products that aims to further immerse her fans so far into her mystique that they get the bends.
But by constantly pushing at the edges — an admirable reflex, for sure — the experimentation at some point ceases to be dangerous and becomes force of habit, the mere fact of residing at the fringes no longer shocking in itself. Ideas and inclinations that Björk began exploring in the mid-1990s aren’t turning into diamonds on “Biophilia” as much as becoming calcified. “Crystalline,” for example, sounds like an outtake from 1997’s “Homogenic,” what with its drum-and-bass breakbeat. Interesting, yes, but not surprising. Ditto “Mutual Core,” a painted-into-a-corner dirge about the “magnetic strife” of the tectonic plates in her chest. Which isn’t to say that Björk has ceased to be a fascinating presence. It’s that even the most impressive maneuvers cease to be surprising once the shock of the new wears off.
Two stars (out of four)
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— Randall Roberts