Björk - "Crystalline"
Remember science class back in the day? You would sit in a classroom, in a cramped wooden desk, absorbing way too much fluorescent light, glaring down on you with soul sucking precision. No interaction. No playtime. Only do this, not that. Now imagine an eight-year-old kid stumbling upon the Scott Snibbe designed Bjork Biophilia “mother” app and calling up the “Virus” module on their magical iPad. You respond to an aural urging to intercede in the imminent viral attack, but if you do all the harmonious lipsticked mouths will stop singing that crazy song you can’t seem to get out of your head. Every track is a rhizome teeming with poetry and waves of sound that connect back to a singular theme — nature and music are really one in the same.
With 1 million Swedish kroner ($122,000) she won from the 2010 Polar Music Prize, she commissioned one of the most audacious musicology endeavors since Walt Disney’s Fantasia. You would need Pink Floyd’s accountant from 1976 to run the numbers on a “gameleste” (combination celesta and Balinese gamelan), Sharpischord, and giant Tesla coil, not too mention all the opulent stagecraft at this past summer’s Manchester International Festival. Once you strip away all the necessary hubris, you’ll be delighted to find the same innovative songwriting we’ve come to expect.
For every cosmic theme (tectonic plates, the solar system), there’s a sonic corollary (chords, equilibrium). “Moon” opens with repeated cycles of sonorous harp plucking, that are sequenced to an alien sounding 17/8 time signature that is brought back down to Earth with a hymnal backing choir. The slow methodical rolling lull of the Sharpsichord mirrors her desperate poetic pleas of “May I/or Can I/or have I too often?” right before the esoteric arpeggios are emitted at increasing high volumes from a Tesla coil that has seemingly wanted to sing out ever since it was switched on nearly a century ago. The metallic and inviting gameleste notes lull you into a false sense of security on “Crystalline”. I could’ve done without the ecstatic coda of breakbeat and Amen Break drums, but that just wouldn’t be her style would it?
You can also erase any notion of traditional Western time signatures and chord changes if you plan on plugging into this madness. She uses alternating levels of tempo and another 17/8 on the pleasantly unnerving “Hollow” and even goes as far to employ to different time scales on my personal favorite “Solstice”. “Dark Matter” doesn’t even have discernible lyrics but makes the hair on the back of your neck prick up with its Icelandic rimur folk song structure.
In so many ways it feels like she’s channeling Mother Nature herself. This opera is operating on myriad levels that become increasingly apparent as you delve deeper into this insular universe she’s constructed. It’s meant to be navigated at your own pace, deconstructed at every turn. But all the ingredients for finding whatever enlightenment you’re looking for are all here waiting to be unraveled.