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Bj÷rk - Med˙lla CD (album) cover

MED┌LLA

Bj÷rk

 

Crossover Prog

3.50 | 72 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Progressive, yes, and so very good

Sadly it is Bjork's more commercial 90s albums which garner most of the attention, when her 2000s work is vastly superior, especially for fans of progressive music. Her 90s works have their moments but on the whole are mired too often in dance/pop music and tracks which initially sound good, but become pretty boring after a while. On the contrary her 2000s albums are challenging, with depth, and with plenty of staying power. It began with "Vespertine", a haunting, wintry seductress which I fell hard for, especially in its live DVD presentation. It continued with the glorious, vibrant, beautiful "Medulla." I struggled within myself trying to figure out which of these two albums was her true masterpiece, and as far as studio albums go, I have to give the slightest edge to this one. (And thus it ties my appreciation of the live version of Vespertine)

Released in the summer of 2004, "Medulla" is Bjork's most fiercely challenging album and perhaps her most intimate. Without question it is her most experimental work in that it eschews traditional instrumentation and is constructed using a cappella human voice as the driving force, along with beatboxing, beats, and programmed effects. No standard "rock" music here, this is avant-garde music at its finest. Beware however, this is not an album you will take to immediately. You have to give it some time to appreciate. If you want a more accessible introduction to Bjork, look elsewhere. This is an album for Bjork fans who want to follow her to the farthest reaches of her imagination, and who are willing to try music which may finally bring divorce papers from the spouse.

"Medulla" is almost impossible to describe. It demands attention and I love to give it my full attention. It is not "car music" for me, it is "undivided attention" music. Using different languages, assorted sensual grunts, tortured breath theatrics, heavenly choirs, vocal percussions, and gymnastic writing, Bjork turns this into an album of complete freedom. There are no limitations, though that is not to say it is loose or chaotic. Every sound is crafting the larger piece with great care. The songs are mostly short, but the unique style turns the album into what feels like a continuous work. There are only a few breaks for what one would consider a "normal" song, the most obvious being the catchy "Who Is It," which features the fantastic Matmos again. It occurs to me that what seemed so very "weird" at first is really quite natural, human, communication and expression in a very direct form. As Bjork said this album is about muscles and marrow, the body. It connects with me and entrances me so much more than some of what people would call her "normal music" from her early albums.

There are so many interesting individual moments to stop and appreciate when listening to "Medulla." Without being enslaved by the noisy electronica and required chorus repetitions of her old work, it is Bjork's bare and beautiful voice which has to carry the weight, and it does. Strong and powerful wailing, or soft and intimate as if she is speaking to you eye to eye, the performance is mesmerizing. The moments these vocals are backed by The Icelandic Choir and The London Choir remain my favorite. "Oceania" is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard, with the choirs creating these cries and joyful exclamations of little ocean fish and plants (as per the video), the sound is just other-wordly. I believe Bjork was pregnant with her second child when she recorded this and I wonder if this was a large factor in her inspiration. "Vokuro" is so calming, feeling like some long lost spiritual piece. It closes with a second piece of lighter fare in "Triumph of a Heart" which is the only track on this album I would have probably left off, it sounds like the old dance-pop Bjork and is a letdown after what preceded it.

I love "Medulla" and along with "Vespertine" you have the two strongest albums from Bjork. Both belong in the collection of anyone who appreciates adventurous, imaginative music. Those who scoff at Bjork for being just a "pop" music churner have never heard "Medulla." Or if they have, they have a different definition of fluff than I do. So forget about "Post" and "Homogenic" (at least for now) and check out Bjork's real treasures, which were made in the 2000s.

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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