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Bj÷rk Med˙lla album cover
3.59 | 122 ratings | 9 reviews | 22% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2004

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Pleasure Is All Mine (3:27)
2. Show Me Forgiveness (1:24)
3. Where Is the Line (4:41)
4. V÷kurˇ (3:14)
5. Íll Birtan (1:52)
6. Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) (3:57)
7. Submarine (3:14)
8. Desired Constellation (4:56)
9. Oceania (3:25)
10. Sonnets / Unrealities XI (2:00)
11. Ancestors (4:08)
12. Mouth's Cradle (4:00)
13. Mi­vikudags (1:25)
14. Triumph of a Heart (4:04)

Total Time 45:47

Line-up / Musicians

- Bj÷rk Gu­mundsdˇttir / vocals, bassline (1), synthesizer bass (6), piano (11), choir arrangement, programming (5,6,9,11-14), arranger & producer

- Tanya Tagaq / throat singing (1,6,11,12)
- Mike Patton / vocals (1,3)
- Gregory Purnhagen / baritone vocals (3,14)
- Robert Wyatt / sampled vocals (7,9)
- Rahzel (Rozell Manely Brown) / beatboxing (1,3,6,12,14)
- Shlomo / beatboxing (9)
- Dokaka / beatboxing (14)
- The Icelandic Choir (1,3,4,8,10,12)
- The London Choir (9)
- Nick Ingham / choir conductor
- Valgeir Sigur­sson / engineer, programming (1,3,6,7,9,12,14)
- Mark Bell / programming (1,3,6,9,12,14), synthesizer bass (12)
- Leila Arab "Little Miss Specta" / programming (3)
- Matmos / programming (6)
- Olivier Alary / programming (8)
- Jake Davies / programming (13)
- Nico Muhly / piano (9)
- Peter Van Hooke / gong (1)

Releases information

Artwork: M/M (Paris) with Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin (photo)

2xLP One Little Indian ‎- TPLP358 (2004, UK)

CD One Little Indian ‎- TPLP358CD (2004, UK)

Thanks to chris s for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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BJÍRK Med˙lla ratings distribution

(122 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(22%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(40%)
Good, but non-essential (24%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

BJÍRK Med˙lla reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars By far this is Bjork's darkest album, without any knowledge of her 2007 release Volta, Medulla is brooding, moody and magical. Plenty of choral influences, minimalist samples and loops. Erstwhile fellow prog artist Robert Wyatt lending a hand too. There are not too many artists that can create so much atmosphere within the confines of self restricted spatial landscapes but interestingly enough Medulla is where Bjork really hits home base. Reminiscent of early Popol Vuh and her self proclaimed influencers, Tangerine Dream, it is hard to mistake the progressive electronic tendencies that oozes all over this 2004 release.

Bjorks vocals as usual adding that vital ingredient to her more mature sounds, helping mesh the whole album together wonderfully. The album needs to be listened to in it's entirety to fully appreciate the backdrop of the themes and again her skills at making repetitive sound and noise at times, reminds me of Mike Oldfields skills come Incantations. The highlights on Medulla have to be the beautiful and haunting " Desired Constellation", the pensive " Ancestors" and the spine chilling " Where Is The Line". Seriously cannot recommend this progressive electronic/crossover album enough. Four solid stars.

Review by Negoba
5 stars A True Masterpiece of Progressive Music

Based on the monumental Medulla, I had lobbied for Bjork's inclusion on Prog Archives several times to no avail. Finally someone was able to make it happen and now I get a chance to review what was once one of my best kept musical secrets.

Medulla is an album based almost completely on the human voice. Harmony choirs, beat- boxing, sampled and altered vocalizations, and of course Bjork's idiosyncratic singing all combine into a feast of the world's oldest instrument seen under the modern lens. Among the huge number of vocalists who contribute to the record are Canterbury veteran Robert Wyatt and avant-metal godfather Mike Patton. Vocalized percussion draws on urban street corners and ancient ethnic traditions from various parts of the world. No one will ever argue against the fact that Medulla is one of the most ambitious records ever made by a major artist. This alone gives it monstrous cred on a music site ostensibly dedicated to progressive music, in my opinion.

But all the ambition in the world doesn't mean the product delivers. And this is where Medulla rises to such heights. Bjork's experience in pop means that in the midst of extremely challenging arrangements and dramatic voice effects is a powerful sense of melody and often driving rhythms. Always there is a sense of movement and harmony. Never do I feel like I'm in a land of free form avant nonsense. Always, always the music keeps reference to its center which makes painful screams, soaring choruses, even rapid breathing seem so emotionally powerful. A song like "Ancestors" would make even the most rule-breaking musician jealous, but it still makes so much musical sense.

Like many prog masterpieces, Medulla is extremely challenging, and requires many listens to truly appreciate. But it is so emotionally exhausting that it can be hard to listen to the entire album even though it's only 45:40!!! But some of the best songs are late in the album, like "Mouth's Cradle," which combines an almost classical choir with low vocal percussion, and a strident lead by Bjork. Earlier songs like "Who Is It?" and "Where is the line?" are deceptively ear-friendly, with repeated phrases used as accompaniment. But it can be easy to get lost, with multiple parts grabbing for your attention. The final track "Triumph of a Heart" is a beat boxing / vocal percussion extravaganza that is clearly meant to leave the listener with a little humor and an exhale after the amazing journey.

Another great (completely) a capella album is Bobby McFerrin's "CircleSongs" for fans of Medulla and voice.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Die hard Bjork addicts will eat this up... the rest of us....

'Medulla' is my first Bjork experience of an entire album. It was certainly different and interesting. The style is impossible to pin down. It is alternative to the max, and will scare off many music listeners. I had difficulty putting up with some of it but it is good to occasionally listen to something different to open up the ears and it is open to interpretation, which is never a bad thing. As long as the music is good, but the problem is here there is no real music. That in itself made me want to listen intensely. That doesn't mean I was entertained but I was certainly compelled by the high strangeness and dark layers of Bjork's world. Here are my opinions on some of the songs on 'Medulla'.

Pleasure Is All Mine features vocals and is a quiet beautiful way to begin things and restored my faith in what I was about to hear, despite what I had seen on late night MTV. Unfortunately, this beauty is short lived on subsequent tracks. This is the calm before the storm.

Where is the Line is horror prog. It is like the Residents with a female vocalist. The video clip is ultra disturbing featuring a bag lady that gives birth to this slime vomiting creature (Bjork) that rolls in the hay, licks itself of its petroleum jelly and vaseline covering, it screams bloody murder, and then hay showers down and a hay monster appears. Then it reverses as the lyrics are heard "I wanna come back" and the creature swallows its slime vomit, returns to inside the bag lady, the rebirth, and hay rains down covering them. Then hay monsters appear and consume the bag lady. What does it all mean? When Bjork sings about "my purse wide open, You ask again, I see you trying to, Cash into accounts, Everywhere" she means it represents a girl she used to know who spilled her money on everything she could put her hands on, and she said this herself in an interview once. But 'purse' could be a sexual representation and the creature could represent the newborn who is swallowed up by the greed of the world, that is like chaff or hay that disappears, like money. The music is as unsettling as the visuals in the infamous clip, complete with moans and high pitched wails chorally produced as Bjork repeats 'Where is the line with you, where is the liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine' in many tonal variations. You want it dark and disturbing, you got it! Not one to play late at night. So creepy it makes for compelling listening and great for conversations about the art of music and how far should an artist go.

V÷kurˇ is Icelandic chanting to minimalist noises. This had me spellbound for about a minute waiting for something to happen. The beauty of the piece is perhaps in the choral singing in the background. It goes on too long for it's own good.

Íll Birtan is short expressive experimentation using Bjork's multilayered vocals. The title means "all the brightness" in Icelandic. It is lyricless, full of gibberish. Bj÷rk has stated that the song is about her experience of overcoming her initial shyness while writing her first all- vocal album at the age of 18. To quote Bjork, "it's about trying to break through a wall for the light to shine in." I did not see the light

Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) has a droning unsettling vibe with high pitched chimes and quite unpleasant sensations of keyboard squelches. Lots of bells, chimes and clockwork noises. Intriguing track and the film clip gives no clue as to what this is about. Bjork is in a weird costume made of little bells and she has some huskies and kids ringing bells in a wasteland environment. Just in time for Christmas in Iceland CD? Lyrics are weird, "She gave you back your crown and the golden ornaments". Perhaps these are the instruments being played here. The drums are synthetic sounds too. Lyrics are about "handing it over". Handing what over? Perhaps her sanity.

Submarine is more caterwauling and weird vocals. Bj÷rk stated that being pregnant with her daughter, ═sadˇra, influenced her album, particularly this song.

Desired Constellation sounds like Bjork is outside on a night walk singing sweetly to the moonlight. The lyrics are full of angst and there is a melancholy feel. Perhaps one of the more pleasant tracks on the album.

Oceania has lovely lyrics such as "Your sweat is salty". Oceania is one of the weirdest tracks with lots of choral voices like surreal Gregorian chants at times. Ancestors is like giving birth with multilayered wailings of Bjork to soak your brain into.

Mouth's Cradle is more acapella and weird effects to some even stranger lyrics. The song apparently is countering American racism and patriotism since the 911 attacks. It is very sad that's for certain. Bjork is reactionary to the extreme and the album is full of despair.

Triumph of a Heart is an acapella song, that is all vocals making up the instruments once again. This is downbeat music and acid fuelled dementia put to some dissonant melody. There is yodelling, beatboxing and growls to make the music as she wails over top in some kind of assembly of notes, but it is unpalatable. In the video clip Bjork wakes up next to a cat, attends a druggy party, gets wasted, falls in the street scratching her head, wakes in a field and then returns to her house on foot, gets picked up by the cat, it takes her home and she snogs it, cat grows to human size and they dance.

Conclusion. I now know why I can't stand Bjork. This album is evidence. Give me VDGG, Rush, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson or Yes anyday! At least they have music that can be listened to many times. I enjoyed researching what the album is about and Bjork's weirdness. But it is just a curio for my ears. Die hard Bjork addicts need only apply. They will love this as it's what she does; confounds the music world to the point that she must appear in the '1001 Albums you must hear before you die'. Well, I heard it, now I can move on.

Review by Sean Trane
1 stars By the turn of the 00's, Medulla was Bjork's second last "project", but definitely her most difficult to date, the atrocious and unlistenable Medulla, which had intrigued enough to actually rent it from the library a few weeks after its release. Indeed, I'd pretty well had given up following the little Icelandic elf with the microphone, for her early and mid-00's albums left me rather cold. Actually what induced me to listen to it was partly the intriguing artwork of some gooey, gory, slimy, hairy, gunky toxic wasted forming the album's title, spread all over her (normally cute) bust.

Don't listen or read what some members of this site this album being the best reason for our Icelandic queen to be featured on our beloved Progarchives, but this crappy piece of junk is best avoided at all costs. Yes in some ways Medulla is experimental, but so is my farting in a nuclear reactor, whether filled of empty. Indeed the crap pouring out your speaker sounds like one of those reactors malfunctioning and spewing these oily black hairballs on the artwork into your face, ears and brains, thus making you sick and mentally unstable if you actually claim to listen to it in its entirety or even more than sampling here and there some of the "songs" (staying polite here). Sometimes completely muffled - well the microphones' protections were obviously littered and covered by that black gooey pap, so obviously it couldn't have been otherwise but muffled and choked up ? both vocally and musically. Obviously some like the "experimental" sound of this album, and indeed it is experimental?. But to call it progressive or even worse to call it anything remotely close to "prog" is not only irresponsible, but completely misleading, thanks so the hidden agendas of some.

The problem is that it's not just one or two songs on this album that are unlistenable, it's the whole thing and all of the songs are to be thrown in the same muffled sonic bag, not one standing out of that sludgy mess. It really sounds like Bjork's managers and lawyers should've sued the dealer who sold Gudrunsdottir that really bad acid trip for permanent brain damage (her next album is again a piece of junk) and financial wastage into this album's making. You'll find that this album's most obvious highlights are the silence spaces between the "songs" and when your CD deck spits out this indigestible piece of junk, as if it was some kind of poisonous pap.

Avoid at all cost, really!!!

Review by Windhawk
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Icelandic elf, vocalist, composer and experimental artist Bj÷rk first came to international prominence in 1988. Back then she was fronting Icelandic ensemble The Sugarcubes, whose initial effort "Life's Too Good" caused quite a stir in the music press and quickly earned them a strong international reputation. Five years later Bj÷rk decided to establish herself as a solo artist, and have since proven herself to be a rare item in the mainstream music industry: An experimental artist that manage to craft commercially accessible songs whilst maintaining a boundary challenging attitude and an avantgarde approach to her output.

"Medulla" from 2004 is widely regarded as her most experimental album to date. And while I can't wholeheartedly subscribe to that notion myself it is at least a highly unusual affair, it's starkly introverted and idiocentric nature of a kind that only a highly commercially successful artist would have been able to release. Any fledgling or unknown artist attempting to approach any record label with a notable impact from a commercial point of view with such a creation would have been rejected. Forcefully, and most likely with a certain physical force to emphasize the point of view.

Not that the almost a cappella nature of this disc is unique in itself. With only minimalistic instrumentation utilized on select occasions, the art of crafting an album's worth of material using vocals alone has been done for decades. It's the manner in which this is done which is remarkable, and arguably unique seen in the context of this being a CD distributed, marketed and sold to a worldwide audience.

Opening effort 'Pleasure Is All Mine' a good example of just that. A catchy song in itself, well made and enthralling, but also invasive and disturbing, Bjork's primal voice adding almost pornographic associations to the proceedings. Not a song you'd like to play while your mother-in-law is nearby, unless you know her really well and are assured of the fact that she won't be offended.

Or take 'Oceania'. A repetitive and simple affair on the superficial level, but with vocal arrangements that are about as far removed from a mainstream approach as any instrumental free jazz tune you can name. Final track 'Triumph of a Heart' even more so, a straightforward pop tune in terms of structure, with a strong singalong nature to it and with a rather predictable development. But where the nature of the strictly vocal effects used to craft the song are of a kind other artists most likely wouldn't even have contemplated utilizing.

Bjork's marriage of the uncommon, experimental and avantgarde with the accessible and commercially marketable has established her as an artist unique in many ways. "Medulla" isn't the premium example of that side of Bjork however. On this occasion the songs are mostly too avantgarde and idiocentric in nature to be fair representatives of that side of her production. But for anyone wondering why she is regarded as an experimental, avantgarde and even art pop composer and musician, the highs and lows of this strange little production should provide an ample answer to just that.

When that is said, this isn't a great album as such. The songs are varied in scope and nature, where introverted experiments that arguably would have been better left in the studio stand side by side with pieces more intriguing than musically interesting while many of the more remarkable efforts as far as interest goes isn't as challenging or adventurous as one would expect from this artist on this particular production.

It all ads up to a bumpy ride, well worth getting familiar with as long as you don't expect to be entertained all the way. That is, unless you really love the voice of Bjork. If her primal and often sexually laden delivery is one that you just can't get enough of, Medulla is a disc that'll most likely be regarded as a trip to high heavens of orgasmic proportions.

Review by 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.

Review by russellk
4 stars And now 'Medulla', BJORK's difficult acapella child, the inevitable destination of her decade-long experimental journey, the place she pulled back from with her next album. Nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there.

PINK FLOYD once aspired to write an album called 'Household Objects' using found sounds. It strikes me, reading about that period between 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Wish You Were Here', that FLOYD were bored, struggling for ideas, and settled on an intellectual challenge, approaching the task from the outside in, and ultimately abandoning the project. With 'Medulla' BJORK assumes their mantle, penning and performing an album of sounds from the most intimate source, the larynx. Rather than collecting found sounds from the world around them, BJORK finds her sounds deep within. Puffs of breath, deep inhalations, her voice alternately rich and thin, close and far, conjure up the most intimate, self-revelatory music I've ever heard. This album is the sound of a soul stripped bare. She works from the inside out, and succeeds thereby where PINK FLOYD failed.

Much of this album, though, isn't at all pleasant. She's abandoned the sweet beauty of 'Vespertine', perhaps finding it too cloying on revisiting it, and substituted avant-garde arrangements such as on 'Ancestors', sounding like Princess Leia and the Ewoks. These do yield their treasures on repeated listens but, you know, I'm not convinced this is quite the masterpiece critics claimed. To my ear more effort has been put into mechanics than composition and, while I'm a fan of her voice, here she simply asks too much of it. Forty minutes of unleavened acapella wears out its welcome, and I don't have the stamina to listen to this album right through, though there are many individual highlights.

An album to appreciate, then, if not love, 'Medulla' is as avant-garde and challenging as anything by UNEXPECT or HENRY COW. Listen to this and the reason why this artist is on PA suddenly becomes clear. If you hanker for something different, start right here.

Latest members reviews

4 stars It appears this is a really divisive album. Love it or hate it. Well, I love it. The concept is unique and the execution is almost flawless. Pleasure is all mine is a great opener with beautiful harmonies of the Icelandic Choir. Bj÷rk sings beautifully too 9.5/10 Show me forgiveness is a ... (read more)

Report this review (#2900751) | Posted by WJA-K | Tuesday, March 21, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I think I've mentioned a few times that I am in fact in love with Bjork and also that she is a genius. But besides that, I will review the last album of her's that I bought, which will complete my wee Bjork collection. And I was so happy to find this is in a second hand shop for about ú4...I was ... (read more)

Report this review (#385835) | Posted by arcane-beautiful | Monday, January 24, 2011 | Review Permanlink

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