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Björk - Debut CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.60 | 182 ratings

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3 stars Like her or not, you gotta admit Bjork Gudmundsdottir has bucked some gargantuan odds to even get noticed. She hails from Iceland, a country containing a population comparable to that of the city of Wichita, Kansas and a mysterious realm that is completely isolated from the rest of the planet. They don't have neighbors to fight with and they don't necessarily cotton to having visitors show up unannounced. Their only indigenous music is of the primitive Nordic folk variety and, though they've composed a boatload of droning spiritual hymns over the centuries, they've never had a homegrown Elvis to shake things up. All other styles, whether they be derivatives of rock & roll, R&B, jazz, or classical, are considered foreign invasions to its more conservative inhabitants and that forced the younger generations to import all things radical in from somewhere else. Next think about the fact that out of a third of a million people perhaps ten percent can play an instrument. If one percent of the members of that group are good enough to be considered proficient then you've got barely over 300 individuals that are worth tipping. If you're a female that's going to be another serious drawback and if you aren't trying to be a Madonna copycat then your chances of achieving notoriety are reduced the level of winning the lottery twice in a row. What I'm asking of everyone who might scoff at her inclusion in the crossover prog category is to give the girl a great deal of slack. She's overcome a lot of huge obstacles in her career and managed to stay true to herself and her aural art at the same time so she deserves a certain amount of respect, at least. When she first started to garner attention back in the 90s I didn't know what to think of her (and didn't bother to investigate) but I could definitely tell she had some spunk in her attitude. She was her own person in a world full of pretenders and that caused me to withhold judgment until I could get a bead on what she was all about. I didn't realize it'd be over two decades later before I got around to sampling her wares but earlier this year I finally acquired a few of her albums and dutifully donned the headphones, starting with her 'Debut.'

I expected something strange and the first song, 'Human Behavior,' delivers. It features a shuffling snare, booming tympani and an indecipherable bass riff that roils beneath Bjork's vocal melody lines that seem to float without being tethered to a particular key. While I can't say I enjoy the piece all that much I will hand it to her for bolting from the gate in a uniquely weird manner. 'Crying' follows and it's a somewhat dated Trip Hop vibe riding atop a disco throb from start to finish. Say what you will about this cute little frosted mini-wheat but she has some serious RANGE in her arsenal and the tune itself has elements of Nine Inch Nails and Peter Gabriel woven into its fabric. She coyly skips back and forth from a minimalist setting into a full-on orchestral soundscape with relative ease and it's cool to witness. 'Venus as a Boy' is next and if there's a genre known as eclectic adult contemporary this is an example. Imagine Peggy Lee on mescaline. What sticks out most is Bjork's undeniable vocal acumen and her impeccable accuracy. All in all it's a delightful, slightly askew modern jazz number. The intro for 'There's More to Life Than This' gives the impression that one has stumbled upon a party-in-progress (the crowd noise was taped at a London nightclub) where a solid R&B groove is shaking the room. The inventive aspect is that she's willing to take risks aka making it sound like she's stepped away from the soiree into a closet right in the middle of the song. One thing I can say is that if you don't like one of these cuts then hang in there because variety seems to be her calling card as exemplified with 'Like Someone in Love.' On this one you're treated to some splendid, angelic harp work from Corky Hale and Bjork's unadorned singing of a sugary ballad as waves break peacefully upon a nearby shore. Not exactly my cup of tea but her preferences know no boundaries and that earns her a tip of my sombrero regardless. 'Big Time Sensuality' sports another Techno dance track foundation and it wears out its welcome quickly. It's one of the weakest tunes on the record in that it doesn't offer much in the way of surprises except for Bjork's remarkably aggressive mien. She has quite a raspy growl for such a tiny lady.

The soundtrack for 'One Day' reminds me of what Porcupine Tree was producing in their 'Up the Downstair' era and I find it engaging. She relies on her emotional, exaggerated vocal attack to provide the dynamics here but there are times when she's less than successful in that endeavor. Think Sade goes alternative rock or emo. 'Aeroplane' is a highlight. A Be-bop horn section opens and then a Martin Denny-ish tropical rhythm glides in to give it a strong, irresistible current. (FYI, Denny was a popular bandleader in the 50s and is considered the 'Father of Exotica.' His hit instrumental 'Quiet Village' still exudes a hypnotic aura to this day. Check it out.) This track is an intriguing mix of textures that's hard to describe yet difficult to dismiss out of hand. On 'Come to Me' I detect a palpable Annie Lennox air hovering behind Bjork's vocal performance but it's not a rip-off because nobody's voice sounds anything like this woman's. Something went disastrously wrong with my download of the next tune, 'Violently Happy,' so I can't offer an assessment. I assume it's another Pop Rock discoth'que ditty because I read where it climbed to #4 on the Billboard Dance Club chart so I'm not going to fret over missing it. 'The Anchor Song' is unusual in that it once again employs the brassy-but-subdued horn section as the number alternates measures of Bjork's sung melody line with a complex jazz score. It's an unconventional approach that I find very interesting and rather bold. As if to make up for the earlier botched download I received a bonus track called 'Play Dead.' It possesses a large-scale symphonic score that'll pin your ears back and, while it does border on being Broadway in a 'Days of Future Passed' sorta way, one cannot ignore her ability to spur her voice to wherever she wills it to go. You have to hear it to believe it.

I'll admit that I went into 'Debut' tentatively because I feared an onslaught of Yoko Ono-like wails and screeches but it turns out my anxiety was unwarranted. This ain't bad at all. What I found most appealing was Bjork's obvious ambitious nature and the character of her singing style. There are a few songs that I could go the rest of my life without hearing again but then some are unorthodox enough to make me curious about what she's done since July of '93 when this album was released. I plan to find out. In the final analysis 'Debut' is a sassy casserole of musical flavors and seasonings that unquestionably leans in a progressive direction. If you're in the mood for something a little off the beaten trail this might tickle your fancy. 3.1 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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