Album Review by Mark Bayross
Those of you who have heard OCEANA, the first single from Björk’s new album (and considering she played it at the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics, around two billion of you have), will know what to expect from MEDULLA. Taking the magical minimalism of VESPERTINE a stage further, Björk has gone so far as to remove practically all instrumentation from the album and strip it down to just human voices, with occasional electronic manipulation thrown in.
Recorded in 18 locations around the world, including New York, Iceland, Venice and the Canary Islands, and with help from long-term collaborators Mark Bell, Mark Stent and Valgeir Sigurdsson, as well as Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Japanese a cappella singer Dokaka, the legendary Robert Wyatt, The Roots’ Rahzel and Faith No More / Mr Bungle / Tomahawk / Fantomas nutjob Mike Patton, the result is an album that is sometimes wondrous, sometimes comical, but unique throughout.
Most of the tracks are built around Björk’s otherworldly voice with the treated vocals adding choral flourishes like an ambient Laibach (MOUTH’S CRADLE) or ghostly patterns in the background. Elsewhere, voices are crafted into funky staccato beatbox (WHERE IS THE LINE) or used to create a feeling of foreboding, a kind of demonic barbershop (SUBMARINE). The only concession to sound beyond the human voice comes from the occasional piano or beats that are allowed to creep into the mix.
This is a challenging and brave record to make, really only something an experimentalist like Björk could pull off. It clearly is as far removed from her early music as is possible, although songs like WHO IS IT remain accessible and demonstrate the talent of an artist who can craft a pop song from the most minimal resources.
Björk has said that she initially wanted to call the album “Ink”, referring to “that black 5,000 year old blood that’s inside us all” but an artist friend of hers suggested “Medulla”, the Latin medical name for “marrow”, meaning the very essence of the human body. Considering that she has produced a mesmerising record that distils the essence of sound back to its origins, its title is typically appropriate.