Album “Fossora” by Björk: biology and techno

Exactly for the mushroom season, Björk releases “Fossora”, an album that deals with love and transience.

the Icelandic singer Björk sits in nature in front of leafy branches, has dyed her hair white-orange and black and holds a large artificial flower next to her head

Last remaining pop artist: Björk Photo: Vidar Log Photo: Photo: Vidar Log

The first impression that jumps out at you when you hear “Fossora”, the new album by the Icelandic pop star Björk: that their music keeps banging on the most violent way. What after the predecessors, the suffering and resurrection-celebrating breakup drama “Vulnicura” (2015) and the filigree, flute-heavy “Utopia” (2017) ever surprised.

“Atopos”, the opening song of “Fossora”, combines a bass clarinet/wind ensemble in a way that has never been heard before with rabid beats, which after a groping, stumbling beginning pick up speed and memories of the blissful Rotterdam “Poing” rumble techno -Invoke nineties aesthetics.

Even those who found the last few Björk albums particularly exhausting have to admit that their music never developed any self-satisfied routine.

Over the clarinet gabba, Björk sings one of her lyrics, which evoke connection and lament the disconnection. “Are these not just excuses to not connect? / Our differences are irrelevant / Too only name the flaws / Are excuses to not connect.”

full of love

Mutual connection between people, but also connection with nature and with the technology, which should become something natural in the imagery of these songs and especially in the videos themselves. Everything – man, nature and technology – should be as always full of love be. And probably because everything is so often not full of love, the songs on Björk’s last albums often sound painful compared to the earlier, much more popular work.

In the video clip for the track “Atopos”, mushrooms happily proliferate through the image, which is otherwise populated by elf-like forest spirits with a DJ enthroned. It’s played by Kas, one half of the Indonesian duo Gabba Modus Operandi. Björk sent sound files back and forth with the Balinese during the corona lockdown (which was spent entirely in Iceland).

The name of the WhatsApp group of the three artists:Inside is “Biological Techno”. And that sums up the nature of this music quite well for the time being. Gabba modus operandi fuse gabba with Balinese folklore and gamelan sounds and come very close to Björk with this combination of traditional and mechanical. All of the tracks on “Fossora,” not just the ones the techno-noise-punk duo programmed the beats for, attempt a Interface between technology and nature to identify and describe.

Bjork and Sugarcubes

The sound is combined with images of a monumentally beautiful, infinitely rich nature

That brings us to the most outstanding aspect of Björk’s art, at least since the 2004 released masterpiece “Medúlla”: Her music, created after emancipation from the band Sugarcubes, became popular after the early pop solo albums “Debüt” and “Post”. to a very conceptual matter. Which is perhaps also a simply logical development when, like Björk in her star phase, you have played through the “pop song” format with something as perfect as “Hyper-Ballad” as if nothing were there. Then something else has to come automatically.

For Björk, this otherness was apparently the path to the musical openness, to the point where the music almost left the pop coordinate system and approached the outer regions of experimental music. Only a few sound researchers: sit so calmly on the fence that separates pop, i.e. the accessible, from everything that is radically strange, exhausting and crazy.

“Fossora” doesn’t make it easy for the listener either. The rhythms tend to disintegrate the music rather than structuring it into something catchy. The horn arrangements hint at possible melodies rather than immediately pulling you into the music. Much remains fragmentary.

For Björk, sound research also means an unmanageable number of collaborators over the years, with whom the music of the respective concept album is developed.

Gabba and experimental R&B

In “Fungal City” the beats of Gabba modus operandi merge with the delicate experimental R&B of queer US producer serpentwithfeet. Only the title track, towards the end of the album, fully unpacks the gabba club, otherwise clarinets, strings, sometimes plucked, and intricate vocal lines dominate.

With the enormous technical, compositional and conceptual effort that the Icelandic artist puts into her music, it sometimes slips from the view that one of her goals is to create closeness.

In the piece “Ancestress” Björk sings about her mother, who died at the age of 72: “The machine of her breathed all night while she rested / Revealed her resilience / And then it didn’t.” Strings and gongs, but not that call up obvious sound clichés such as sobbing violins, but draw their intensity from rather abstract timbres.

The musically again very brittle “Fossora” demonstrates once again that the 56-year-old, in her attempt to dissolve the contradictions in her art without flattening them, still does not care much about listening habits and commensurability.

Duet with the daughter

Moments of immediate beauty – such as the folky duet with her daughter Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney – alternate with the intricate. In the end, what remains is a demanding music that, even if you don’t hear the album too often, is one of the most conceptually and musically interesting things that are produced in the “A total of 20 million records were sold” segment.

With this simultaneity of intensity and distance, of pop and experiment, of immediacy and conceptual thinking, one is perhaps already at the core of Björk’s work. Add to that the joy of shapeshifting and disguise that it might take to sing so candidly on stage about dead mothers, abandoned daughters and divorce.

In a eulogy to the Icelandic singer, author Jasper Nicolaisen celebrated her work in the 1990s: “Björk […] From the start, made no secret of the fact that it had sprout, swelled and jumped out like a slime mold from earth, ice, wind, salt and silicon, and after some puddles and trickling around like a trope or jellyfish on seed threads and spray flakes with the wind opened up here and there and now had set out to become many things, perhaps everything.”

This slime mold metaphor finds a direct image in Björk’s mushroom music on “Fossora”, which fits seamlessly into the other natural mythology of perhaps the “last remaining great pop artist” (Nicolaisen). It grows out of this work quite uninhibitedly, the original that this sound conjures up is combined with images of a monumentally beautiful, infinitely rich nature.

Machines, calculators and the digital

At the same time, these images and sounds are unmistakably the work of machines, computers and the digital. Björk’s nature, in the case of “Fossora” the mushroom networks as an image of the connection of everything with everything else, is always conveyed via technology and equipment; the only all-round successful merging of two lovers in this work was Björk’s 1997 hit “All Is Full Of Love”, to which the British director Chris Cunningham finally created a cinematic monument with two robots (and not two people).

There is no going back to the origin here either, which is not a big deal, because the machines in Björk’s cosmology are just as animated as nature.

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