Review Summary: that black, 5,000 year-old blood that’s inside us all; an ancient spirit that’s passionate and dark, a spirit that survives.
That is the inspiration for Björk’s 5th studio album, Medúlla
, the medical term for bone marrow. To Björk it is more then that: “not just you're [sic] bone marrow, but marrow in the kidneys and marrow in your hair, too. It’s about getting to the essence of something. And with this album being all vocals, that made sense.” The album is not entirely without vocals. There are synthesizers and percussive elements (contributors include Matmos and múm), but traditional instruments and their traditional uses are replaced by voice and more voice. Vocal techniques range from throat singing to beatboxing, and guest appearances include Mike Patton and Robert Wyatt. The adjective a cappella may summon to mind the choral, spacey arrangements of Eric Whitacre, or music more for show then aesthetics, but Björk avoids entering into either traps.
The spotlight is of course on the Icelandic diva. Collaborators aside, her voice is the entrée, slicing through harmonies and hazy ambience with wild appoggiaturas and fiery intensity. Yet, some of the album's most dynamic moments are her tranquil expressions. and you hear how am I going to make it right?
she whispers on "Desired Constellation" after a series of lines almost painful in their violence.
The album is passionate. The "marrow" idea was a partial response to the "stupid American racism and patriotism" emblematic of post-9/11 America.
I need a shelter to, to build an altar /
Away from all the Osama's and Bushes
she sings on "Mouth's Cradle". There is veracity in seeing through faux-emotions grounded in tragedy and shock, and Björk’s stressing of the "essence" of life beneath all the stupidity is refreshing.
Written and released at a time when Björk was not short on commercial recognition, (single "Oceania” was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee and Björk performed it at the 2004 opening ceremony) Medúlla
avoids the all-too-common slip in creativity and experimentation of artists at the peak of their acceptance. Instead, Björk went and made one of the most passionate, political, and boundary-extending albums of her career. And for all its eccentricities, it is a consistently appealing batch of songs, with a number of outstanding ones like the aforementioned, cathartic, “Desired Constellation”, and the buoyant "Who Is It", the second single off the album. Medúlla
showcases an artist doing what all good artists should: showing sensitivity to aesthetics while exploring his or her imagination.