Review Summary: Clarinet raves, funeral rites and 'shrooms ahoy.
Take this from someone who used to rewind Homogenic
's cassette tape with a pen while riding the bus, maniacally, for years: Björk has always been this peculiar. On her tenth release, give or take because of the different soundtracks, remixes and collaborations that engross her very healthy discography, she allows herself once more to be that lovely oddball of explosive art and indomitable creativity. No other artist could get away with doing an album with six clarinets and Indonesian techno (or gabber
if you want to get technical) but she did, and the results, while they won't please everyone, have led me to a plausible conclusion that would explain why: Björk hasn't changed, but we have.
We have become a tough clientele, folks. We have spoiled ourselves by feasting on way more art and entertainment than we could ever digest, let alone enjoy. We feel bloated, yet still we demand that delicacy that we know the chef can cook for us. In short, we want Björk to make another Vespertine
, and not only will she never satisfy those demands, in fact, she will stray as far as she can from anything she has already done in the past. So instead, what do we get? Fossora
. Take it or leave it, Fossora
is a little bit like the mushrooms which it seems to draw inspiration from: delicious at times, but with the possibility of being also highly intoxicating. This new album can poison you with the idea that clarinet melodies being hammered relentlessly by a drum kick and self-imposed unconventional vocal melodies, or lack of "hooks" like the industry wants to call it, is actually a form of art that transcends our mortal ears, that it is ok not to "get it".
Or you know, maybe there's nothing to "get". It could all be just an excuse for an actual lack of creativity. Her inspiration could be tanking through a swamp and re-surfacing only with the garbage that has been collected deep down its muddy waters and none of her fanatic fanbase would have the guts to admit it, me included. After all, the exuberating beauty of her craft has aged, and like all things in this world racing against the pass of time, at some point, it all has to wither, the well has to run dry, and those once magnificent ideas ought to become the mundane ramblings of a musician way past her peak.
But not Björk.
There's something special about Fossora
, read me out. Apart from the very personal fact that it has been released on September 30th, my mum's birthday if she hadn't passed away in 2019, just a year later than Björk's mother did, there's a faint almost intangible vibe that feels like it's reaching out to her past works, almost unconsciously, like ghostly roots growing deep into the ground searching for sounds and melodies buried under the sands of time. It's funny that she insists in "Atopos", the opening track, that we should find a way to "connect". With this album, it feels like I'm "connecting" again with her music. The singles breached indeed through a tiny fissure in my skepticism, and after many listens, the whole thing has busted in with a fungal torrent of bewildering music, just like Björk could only do. Is the fact that her voice remains unchanged after all this time? Is the mind-bending nature of her videos? Is it just a mushroom overdose? Beats me.
Don't get me wrong though, there are many aspects of this album that hardly work well together. The second half of "Victimhood" is a hot mess, with clarinet notes sliding through shapeless vocals and an evolving timid beat until the song starts to crumble like each element belonged in a different song. Many of her vocal melodies are also subdued to this self-imposed challenge of avoiding earworms that she's been undertaking for years now, showing absolute disdain for logic, convention or even proper grammar. In addition, some of the beats that push her songs are also a metronome's nightmare, which combined with the very unorthodox instrumentation used to build the structure for her songs it all translates into an album that is, in fact, very hard to crack.
But the truth is that Fossora
encapsulates Björk in a state of euphoric confidence I hadn't heard in a very long time. The second half of the album especially hides some treasures worth digging out: the complete techno madness created by Gabber Modus Operandi in the title track punching the album's stickiest chorus, the plucked strings that sustain "Freefall", the elusive beat and invigorating trombone that accompany Bjork's singing in "Ovule", or the gloomy bass clarinet echoing in the somber trip hop intro of "Victimhood" are some of the many details that make Fossora
something that invites to think that this album could easily be placed above her most recent outputs.
It is true that Björk rarely looks back and makes the same album twice, but I couldn't help finding several callbacks to specific moments in her career. One of the two interludes, "Mycelia", and the choral piece "Sorrowful Soil" could very well trace back to Medulla
, while the strings in "Fungal City" slightly recall the sparkling innocence of some of her earlier works like Debut
's "The Anchor Song" or Volta
's "The Dull Flame of Desire". Fossora
is also generous regarding features, with Norwegian singer Emilie Nicolas providing a beautiful contrast to Björk's mighty voice in "Allow", and New York’s experimental singer serpentwithfeet adding some extra spice to "Fungal City", but the real treat is hearing Sindri and Ísadóra, Björk's very own offspring, singing with her in "Ancestress" and the closing track "Her Mother's House", both a beautiful tribute to the memory of Björk's mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir.
's charming intricacy is not something I would have expected after the disappointment I felt with Utopia
, an album that took Björk as far as she could be from herself. This new release, like she has said in many recent interviews, has grounded her back, so strongly that she found her way underground, digging the volcanic soil of her home ground in Reykjavik and spreading her ideas like moss around rocks and trees and porcini from the depths of the earth. It feels strange yet familiar, rather comforting and welcoming while also showing the artist being peacefully exalted about it. Some will need a tunneling machine to get to them, and some other will make do with a spoon, but there's treasure to be found in the heart of Fossora
, and if willpower is not enough to help you find them, mushrooms will surely help.