It takes a brave woman to second-guess Timbaland. Or a foolish one. Or Björk. Word that the Icelandic iconoclast had retwiddled the results of her in-studio tryst with Mr. Mosely dashed any hopes that she’d abandon herself to horny megapop escapism. And Volta‘s amazing opener, “Earth Intruders,” dispels any doubts about the strength of her arty instincts. Over Tim’s stomping beat (weirdly redolent of the introductory jackboots of Never Mind the Bollocks), Björk layers percussive clatter from the Congolese ensemble Konono No. 1 for a funky stomp that’s equal parts pre- and postmodern.
She channels that avant-trad feeling into the brassy arrangements, suitable for both a medieval Viking fortress or contemporary concert hall. “Tribal” is Björk’s word for this sound, and the free-form drum tattoos that Chris Corsano and Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale pound out fit that description. But she also contains each drummer’s wilder experimental side, and similarly shapes the kora sound of Malian master Toumani Diabate into lovely but Björk-friendly harp imitations. She integrates her guests on such solipsistic terms that “collaboration” is a misnomer — they’re simply extensions of her own self. “My Juvenile,” a duet with Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), even casts the falsetto warbler in the role of her inner child. Fortunately, whether she’s orchestrating a B-movie death march (“Vertebrae by Vertebrae”) or a seaside fantasia (“Wanderlust”), her vision is worth the price of submission.