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Bjork returns to her iconic, innovative and rhythmic roots with Volta. Featuring her own infamous beats and collaborations with Timbaland, Antony Hegarty, Brian Chippendale and an all-female Icelandic brass section, the end result is an explosion of beats and an amalgamtion of sound and visuals that give Volta a life of its own, like the world hasn't seen from Bjork in years.
Björk's main asset as a musician is her fearlessness. Since the end of The Sugarcubes and the pop-dance of Debut, she has released progressively more experimental records. But after well over a decade of going further and further out, Volta steps back. Make no mistake; this is Björk, and so it's still fabulously weird. Like 2004's mesmerizing Medúlla and the 2005 soundtrack for Drawing Restraint 9, the songs are blissfully peculiar, with narratives about love, offspring, aliens...you name it. Yet melodically and philosophically, Volta recycles more than it innovates; the driving pulse of "Declare Independence," for instance, reminds us of Homogenic's "Pluto," and the lead single "Earth Intruders" sounds like Post's "Army of Me" on steroids. And just as Medúlla oriented itself around a certain instrument--the human voice--this one concentrates on horns.
Still, the transition between her early work and the avant-garde bender she's been on since Vespertine is pretty harrowing, and it's satisfying to hear Björk revisit her more accessible self. Uber-producer Timbaland pitches in here and there, most successfully on "Innocence," which uses a fat, disjointed pulse to drive the euphoric vocals forward. Elsewhere, the hyperactive sitar sample on "I See Who You Are" provides texture for the song's theme of enjoying each other while there's still "flesh on our bones." And "Pneumonia" makes fantastic use of the horn section with a soft arrangement that compliments the song's lyrical melody.
So while it's a bit of a stall, Volta is a lovely pause. It reminds us how much we appreciate the laboratory of Björks imagination, but also how much we missed her back when she was just goofing around. Matthew Cooke
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Not since Vespertine has Björk released something so raw and yet so interesting. Volta is a grower, and may just be her most unpredictable album to date. Like the title implies, it goes its own ways, managing to be both extremely introvertive and shy as well as blood-broilingly confrontational.
I confess that I don't get a particular jolt of enjoyment from listening to five of Volta's ten tracks. Critical nerves in my head complain of lack of outright melody and catchyness. Tracks 5 to 8 are raw and difficult to take in, yet somehow interesting and fresh. I never mind another listen, and this surprises me. I still remember, though, how I didn't think much of Vespertine at first, and how over time it grew into another of my loves from Björk.
Volta has its winners, though, and then some. The first four tracks of Volta are strong transitions in the wavelength, all different yet powerful, furious and soul-searching. "Dull Flame of Desire" oddly works in its beauty and passion. "Innocence" and "Earth Intruders" are aggressive and very satisfying. "Declare Independence," the semi-final track, harbours no real melody but is still brutal and explosive to rival Homogenic's "Pluto".
Track 2, "Wanderlust", though, is my true love. With lyrics by Sjón, this is a restless, soul-searching track with indescribable use of Volta's characteristic brass work. The video made to accompany it compliments it in wondrous ways. The eerie, haunting foghorn intro to the song (presented in clever count-down fashion as opposed to being a track on its own) is imperative to set the tone for a deep and revealing tune.
This is the first time I have ever written a review for one of Björk's works, and I intend this to be the only one. I don't put what her music means to me in words, but I decided to make an exception for Volta, because it roused something in me that I needed to sort out. "Volta" is a word that has yet another meaning to it than the many that Björk thought of, one the album bears witness to. Like electricity, it's unpredictable, sometimes not totally comfortable, but in the end a completely satisfying experience. Volta is one for repeated listenings. Its leery nature will slowly reveal itself to you. An introspective, revealing work from Björk, who dares to follow her instinct and gift, even if that means working with Timbaland (whom she thinks is unfair to be classified as a genre).
Earth Intruders certainly has a killer beat but the real gem here is Declare Independence, an ode to speaking up for your own rights. What makes this song so amazing is the thunderous electro beat that keeps building along with Bjork vocals to finally reach a screeching point that could not be a better representation of the anger that one feels with political apathy in today's society (I guess that is my take on this).
Also not to be missed, the equally brilliant "Innocence". Both songs have been released with some amazing cutting edge remixes but the album mixes are just as brilliant. Bjork remains the one and true original artist of the past 20 years (yeah, the first Sugarcubes album came out 20 years ago)
Be warned though, if you expect an acoustic album similar to Medulla, then this is definetely not the one. The heavy experimental electronic sounds are closer to the remixes that Bjork released from her brilliant Homogeneous album. And yes, you will either love her or hater her, there is no middle ground here.