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Bjork – Medulla


She comes from the land of ice and snow, to subjugate us once more withher whimsical grandeur-just like those kittens on the Internet singingLed Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” But avant-cuteness has always beenjust the tip of Björk’s iceberg. At first, her sixth studio album seemslike an electro-dork’s take on MTV’s old “Unplugged” gambit. With justoccasional swathes of synthesizer to keep it decent, her bare voicewantonly intermingles with tracks created entirely out of noises madeby humans: vocal ensembles Icelandic and British, human beat-boxes,Inuit throat singers, gentle art-rock vet Robert Wyatt, and hard-rocktrickster Mike Patton-plus, chorus upon chorus of Björks, multi-trackedinto infinity.

Sure, it’s high-concept:Björkapella. But it’s no mere gimmick. She hinted at this strategy on 2001’s Vespertine ,where her vocals pulsed along with music seemingly keyed to her owninternal rhythms instead of getting lost in technoid tangles. On Medulla,her voice is in constant motion, in sync with the beat, rather thanbattling it, whether she’s running uphill (the orgasmic gasps of”Pleasure Is All Mine”) or just bobbing weightlessly (“Vokuro”). Andthough she still interpolates so manysi-i-i-llah-aaahh-buh-UHUH-lle-esss into a lyric you’d think that shewas paid by the vowel, there’s a new sense of gravity-defiance in herdelivery-she practically glides through “Oceania.”

Lately, Björk has been talking up Spike Jones-thesound-effects-happy 1950s bandleader, not the skateboarding auteur. Andyou can hear his pretension-leveling influence when former Rootsmouth-organ Rahzel upstages a gravely ponderous choir on “Where Is theLine.” But Björk’s layered vocal weirdness and stated desire to reclaimthe “primitive and silly” more distinctly echoes Zap Mama, a group ofAfro-Euro cosmopolitans who reclaimed pygmy chants as the ultimate inworld-pop escapism. The medulla is the region of the brainstem thatregulates the heartbeat and respiratory system. Leave it to a woman whoonce sang about wanting to “organize freedom” to find peace byjourneying to the center of her mind. Valhalla, she iscom-in-in-in-ing.

Grade: B+
See Also: Meredith Monk, Volcano Songs (ECM)