Review: Bjork, “Volta”

volta.jpgWhile not exactly timely, my late review for Volta had to be informed by intense listens; deep dives into the album’s mystic haze and playfully violent fits of claustrophobic noise. I had to ingest a reasonable cross-section of reviews in order to gauge where the populous stands. I’m eternally biased, an unhealthily obsessed fanboy. Throughout her career, Bjork’s body of work has become a monolith of polarization and the frustrating highs and lows of Volta are no exception.

She has always been more high-art, high-concept, than composer of “songs” or one who even remotely flirts with accessibility. It is better not to give her borders, expectations, and timelines. Anyone hoping for Top 40 dare not tread here, just be content that she has given you something tangible.

On Volta, she posits herself as den mother to the avant-pop universe by rallying against the constricts of globalization, shining a beacon through the fog of war, and bridging the disparate poles of “world” musics through tribal re-awakenings. Inviting in the planet’s organically wondrous gems (Toumani Dibate’s lite-psych kora or Antony’s voice) and its inventions for a mechanized future (Timba’s bright caustic beats and Chris Corsano’s lovely nihilist drum sculpture), to collide in orgiastic experiment.

“Earth Intruders” is easily Volta’s most immediate moment, pitting Timbaland’s vision of an overgrown village of dub worshippers against the percussive melodies of Konono No. 1’s thumb imprints. Given the minimal conflict in the album’s lulling middle third, the single’s wild saturation, followed by the grandeur of “Wanderlust,” and two songs later by the psycho-skeletal “Innocence,” leaves Volta frontloaded. That said, more time with the elegant brass arrangements, the field recordings at sea, and Bjork’s personal stage-show weaving formlessly throughout these juxtapositions, give life to each track, each epic in their own right.

As in “I See Who You Are,” an imperfect shape built with tropical gamelan, teardrop pipa strings, and classical swells, her art has many strands to follow; choosing one is part of the adventure. Finally finding where those trails cross paths is many times on Volta, enlightening.

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