Björk Volta

[Atlantic; 2007]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: electronic, experimental
Others: Sugarcubes, Matmos, Matthew Barney

I’m going to foolishly try to prognosticate about the response to Volta. I predict that you’ll be told that it's pretty good, but a pretty major disappointment in regards to the Björk oeuvre. You’re going to be told that its disjointed and regressive. The record will not be panned by any means and will receive ratings that are above average, but the content of the reviews will be predominantly damning with faint praise, particularly damning for an artist who is universally adored and fawned over by music critics. Björk is perhaps the only contemporary artist credibly compared to The Beatles in fusing popularity with adventurousness (who else is revered by music critics, strippers, teenage girls, and the avant-garde?), a weighty imposition. Whether it’s a long-awaited backlash or perceived failure to live up to their
expectations, I think Volta won’t be given the credit it deserves.

As for the qualm that it's disjointed, I’d initially say that’s patently absurd. But I can sympathize with that assessment. After all, we’re only talking about the greatest album artist of the past 20 years. Her albums aren’t only thematically coherent, but musically weave a rich landscape of commutual styles and sounds. Insert more superlatives here. In other words, comparably maybe this album sounds disjointed; Björk is more content to be abrupt in segues between disparate styles and to abut even more disparate songs on the playlist. But in actuality, the palette hasn’t grown any more drastically than it has between any previous albums. Perhaps she has widened the spectrum to such an extent that some listeners can’t follow her warp and weft.

I was actually considering writing this review from a standpoint of approving regression, in that every song on Volta conjures vibrant memories of past albums or songs. So, I decided to try and identify in particular these similarities by listening to each song on Volta and then comparatively listen to my educated guesses (and eventually her entire corpus). But I was rather quickly thwarted. Songs that initially sounded exactly like something off of Vespertine were revealed to have no glaring twin on that album, instead only borrowing bits and pieces of a song or two and a pinch of Medulla and Debut. This evolved my understanding of Volta immeasurably, but it probably shouldn’t have.

In my review of Drawing Restraint 9, I postulated that her albums were continuous and steady graduations stylistically, and that DR9 was the exploding of all forms that Russolo would have us call noise. I don’t know if I was expecting it, or desiring it, but I knew there was the possibility Björk would have jumped in with both feet to the roiling pit of abstraction (considering her pedigree). But that wasn’t giving my most-esteemed artist the credit she deserves. That pit either swallows an artist whole, from which their sounds will rarely ever emerge to be heard by any ears outside of it (and that is often for the better), or is sampled from sparingly and usefully to flavor and enhance works, facilitated as another tool as opposed to an entire end. In other words, she didn’t abandon everything she’s learned in the past 20 years. As someone who has completed the circle of aesthetic, from the basest to the most complex to the most elegant to the crassest (the absurd), she recognizes the value of every degree along the arc.

Now, that somewhat addresses the lack of progression that might be crowed, but it clearly isn’t a true refutation. She is perhaps equipped with a newly full arsenal, but how does she wield it? It could rightly be seen as disjointed or regressive if wielded improperly, but as I’ve claimed, those descriptors are invalid; it follows that I’ll claim she is nothing but adroit. The songs are reminiscent of past works, but going back and pulling out the component parts I consistently found there were either pieces that couldn’t be culled or that the pieces were put together so much more beautifully that it would be somewhere between overly reductive and outright wrong to think of these songs as Frankenstein’s monsters. The marked improvement here over any ancestors is overwhelming.

To put it briefly, I’ll claim that Volta is Björk’s best album yet. It is the most perfect and the most immaculate, beyond any doubt in my mind. Ultimately, people will be disappointed mostly because it is certainly not her overtly greatest album. In the wake of Homogenic, one of the most groundbreaking albums of all-time, an album that assuredly caused countless hearts to soar, it's been an ongoing chase of an ultimate high. Volta is Björk’s reflection on her prodigious offspring and an evolved and matured celebration of them.

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