Bjork
Biophilia


4.0
excellent

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
October 10th, 2011 | 282 replies | 53,577 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Far better than anybody had any right to expect.

It's been hard for me not to be really cynical about all the talk that's surrounded Biophilia for months now. It's seemed at times as though people aren't even talking about a record - for all the hype about apps and iPads and the liberal use of buzz-phrases like 'open-source' and 'interactive', it seems to have been forgotten that Biophilia is ultimately a pop album first and foremost, and as such nobody seemed concerned about how good it was going to be, as opposed to how inventive or important.

If this had all happened in 2002, immediately after Vespertine, none of this would be a problem. The stretch between Debut and Vespertine saw Bjork on a roll where it felt like she could do no wrong, and the quality of this album wouldn't have been in question if she'd done it then. But this isn't 2002, it's 2011, and Bjork has been on a downward spiral for over half a decade now - both Medulla and Volta were albums with an impressive breadth of imagination and a serious lack of impressive execution, records that were much better in theory than they were in practice, that sounded much better when you remembered them than when you were actually listening to them. They had their highlights, sure, but for every "Declare Independence" or "Triumph of a Heart" there were two tracks that were either unforgivably boring or a complete mess. With all the hype about its creation and zero talk about its actual content, how could we expect Biophilia to be anything other than a continuation of this maximum effort/minimum end product rut she's found herself stuck in?

Surprisingly, it's the optimists that expected Biophilia to be good despite Bjork's recent track record who were right. Although it's not up to the standard of her classics, this is comfortably her best album since Vespertine.

The main reason that this sounds so much better than Volta is an issue of space. The songs on this album are given room to breathe and develop naturally, which lends them an atmosphere that harks back to Vespertine and stands in stark contrast to "Earth Intruders", the so-busy-it's-painful lead single from her last outing. Where Medulla and Volta were both very difficult albums to listen to, this is a walk in the park in comparison - it's her most accessible effort since Post, and is arguably even more of a breeze than that.

That sense of space, crucially, has helped her rediscover the wide-eyed wonder her best work always had. This, more than anything, is what set Bjork apart when she first emerged in the '90s - nobody that she was compared to could match her for child-like amazement at the world, whether it was manifested in the unrestrained joy of "Big Time Sensuality" or the haunting fairytale love story of "Hyperballad". In the age of slackers and sarcasm, nobody was as completely free of cynicism as Bjork, and that made her special; and after that edge looked to have petered away into nothingness, it's back with a bang here. Even though the deeply conceptual nature of each tracks means that her lyrics here are arguably the most obviously odd of the career, the joy at simply being alive shines through. "Mutual Core" might take the movement of the tectonic plates as a metaphor for love, but when she sings 'I gave my all to match our continents' it becomes clear that she's found real emotion in the comparison, in the way a less imaginative, more credulous songwriter never could.

Whether it's a result of those improvements in the songs and the overall atmosphere, or whether it's a result of the collaborators she's brought in I'm not sure, but Biophilia also impresses in the way that just about every idea comes off. That 'maximum effort/minimum end product rut' mentioned above has been turned on its head - there is less going on here than on your average Bjork album, but it feels like every idea reaches its full potential to make an impact, right across the album. When "Crystalline" crashes into its drum'n'bass rhythm, when the harsh quasi-industrial drums enter on "Mutual Core", the idea of writing a love song from the perspective of a tumour to its host on the utterly beautiful "Virus"; it all works. You will struggle to find an idea anywhere on this album that doesn't come off - even the dependance on the gameleste, a synthesized instrument built to sound like a cross between a gamelan and a celeste that features heavily throughout, makes the album feel ethereal and beautiful rather than repetitive.

Apropos of nothing, "Moon", the opening track on Biophilia contains the lyric 'the best way to start anew is to fail miserably'. With this album, she proves just how true that is - from the ashes of Volta, an album that occasionally felt like a career-killer, has come an album of startling beauty, furious invention, and inviting, warm atmosphere. Rejoice kids, Bjork is back!



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user ratings (452)
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
conradtao
Emeritus
October 10th 2011



2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Medúlla, shoddily executed? Clean your ears, fool.

In all seriousness, good review.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 10th 2011



15732 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nick "I didn't have this dibbed but I'll review it anyway" Butler strikes again :p.

of course this is a good review

psykonaut
October 10th 2011



3913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review but like conrad i somewhat disagree with your assessment of medulla

TheVoiceAndTheSnake
October 10th 2011



3663 Comments


nice

Rev
October 10th 2011



9410 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

great review but like conrad i somewhat disagree with your assessment of medulla

123

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
October 10th 2011



50124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

4s all up in this place

Digging: Tiny Moving Parts - Pleasant Living

pizzamachine
October 10th 2011



12571 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Rejoice kids, Bjork is back!

yayyyyyy

KILL
October 10th 2011



71530 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

yea medulla ruled, great review

Digging: Invisible - El jardin de los presentes

conradtao
Emeritus
October 10th 2011



2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Another thing: where the FUCK are the umlauts in her name!?!!!?!??*!!*!?

omnipanzer
October 10th 2011



21442 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I agree with a lot of the statements made but not to the degree they were made. I liked her last two
albums just fine but still see this as an improvement. This "maximum effort/minimum end product rut"
you speak of I recognize but I feel you may be being a tad harsh.

Wolfhorde
October 10th 2011



13011 Comments


Sputnik has a slight problem with those umlauts, conrad. And generally English speaking people mostly have problems with pronouncing it so.. yeah.

conradtao
Emeritus
October 10th 2011



2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Hm.. I've never ran into a problem with the umlauts.

Although your qualms about "English speaking people" having problems pronouncing Björk properly (newsflash: it doesn't rhyme with dork, it rhymes with jerk) strikes me as being slightly silly. Then again, I'm the ass who will write "deëmphasize" just to piss people off, so you probably shouldn't listen to me..

omnipanzer
October 10th 2011



21442 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Not Jerk Murk

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
October 10th 2011



50124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If Bjork had the umlaut then users wouldn't be able to put Bjork in their lists

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
October 10th 2011



15019 Comments


diaereses own

KILL
October 10th 2011



71530 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

right now

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
October 10th 2011



16137 Comments


I want to like this album, but it just doesn't do much for me.

balcaen
October 10th 2011



3183 Comments


dunno what to think yet. it's too minimal for bjork but not as minimal to be as good as medulla. SHE FOUND A MIDDLE GROUND AND IDK

balcaen
October 10th 2011



3183 Comments


liking all the random breakcore segments though

omnipanzer
October 10th 2011



21442 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

She is wonderful and you know it.



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