Ranking Björk's Albums


Björk Guðmundsdóttir (don't even bother trying to pronounce that) has had an illustrious career full of ups and downs. A distinguished figure, she has also been disparaged by the press for a multitude of nonsensical and nonessential reasons. So much so that many have forgotten that she is a musician at heart - a passionate one whose influences span a wide variety of artists from a multitude of genres ranging from Punk to Jazz Fusion. 

Her first album, aptly eponymous, was released at the tender age of eleven. Yes, eleven. From then, Björk went on to feature in a number of bands, most famously The Sugarcubes. 1992 was the year they disbanded - the year President Clinton was elected; the year John Gotti was convicted for the murder of Paul Castellano; and the year Björk Guðmundsdóttir's solo career truly began. The following is a personal ranking of her seven studio LPs since then:

7. Biophilia (2011)

"Biophilia" is Björk's latest major release and it marked a change of medium for the Icelandic-born star. Released in collaboration with Apple, the record was released in a series of downloadable apps, focusing on the visual aspect of the music. We know Björk has always been one for elaborate album art and batshit insane music videos, but this was an entirely new step. The visuals, however, were not enough to save the music. While still a solid album, "Biophilia" isn't as consistently brilliant as her other releases and lacks any real substance. There is some very interesting experimentation on this release, with intrepidly subdued tribal-esque wind instruments on Hollow and a minimalistic edge on Solstice, yet the record is severely missing texture and individuality. There are standout moments though, with the glitchy breakbeats on Crystalline and the enchanting vocals on Cosmogony saving the album from being a total disaster. "Biophilia" seems to suffer from bipolarity and is polarizing in many ways, which is a shame because it showed real potential.

Best song: Cosmogony

6. Volta (2007)

What makes Björk so special is her seemingly natural ability to shift and advance into different genres within albums - "Volta" perfectly exemplifies this, with its sprawling horn-sections, vocal duets and African-influenced beats. Björk even goes as far as to delve into the realm of IDM with the fantastic Declare Independence. Her collaboration with Anthony Hegarty is a duet of avidity and ardor with just the right amount of avarice. Things can get a little corny, though, especially on Pneumonia with its wind instruments doing nothing for the vocals. It's not the archetypal Björk album, but what "Volta" may lack in experimentation and courageousness it more than makes up for in baroque catchiness and eclecticism, which she has in abundance.

Best song: Declare Independence

5. Vespertine (2001)

Released at the turn of the 21st Century, "Vespertine" followed in the shoes of the highly acclaimed "Homogenic". Perhaps overlooked by many of her listeners because of the two albums released either side of it, "Vespertine" is an album which doesn't reach the same intensities as many of her other records do. Björk's voice is a lot more subdued, but take nothing away from it; it's a very brilliant and ethereal release. Björk herself stated that she was bored with big beats and that translates wonderfully here. It's a very sensual album - the album's highlight, Pagan Poetry, has her repeating the phrase 'I love him'. Becuse it's such a lush, lascivious work, "Vespertine" is the perfect album to listen to in Winter with your lover.

Best song: Pagan Poetry

4. Debut (1993)

"Debut" is yet another example of how broad Björk's tastes and influences are. A lot of the tracks on here would fit right in a club - a gay one, sure, but a club no less. As her first major release, "Debut" won Björk numerous accolades including "Best Newcomer" and "Best International Female" at the Brit awards. There a are many elements of Dance-Pop on here and her vocals are wildly flirtatious - a good thing. That's not to say there's no experimentation - her Jazz influences are entirely present and the album can get atmospheric at times, reminding one of Portishead and Massive Attack. What's so striking about this album is that it is obvious Björk was no stranger to creating music at this point in her career. It's an accomplished and rich album that paved the way brilliantly for things to come.

Best song: Human Behavior

3. Medúlla (2004)

At this point in her career, Björk had done it all. Her music and her personality had spread across the globe; a philanthropist, philosopher, bonafide popstar and genius artisan and clairvoyant. Then came along Medulla to blow everyone's expectations out of the water. Easily her most ambitious project to date, it is an amalgam of brilliant ideas executed perfectly - beatboxing, Inuit throat singing - heck, the album is made up almost entirely of vocals. There are very few stars of Björk's magnitude who would even think of trying something so ballsy, let alone pull it off. Maybe she is the only one. Vokouro's Icelandic vocals are almost transcendent and infinitely beautiful; Oll birtan's vocals - apparently gibberish - are truly distressing; and Oceania is one of the most incredible pieces of audio sensory music ever - with headphones on, its pelagial vocals swoosh around your head and make you feel as though you're swimming among the jellyfish in the ocean.

Best song: Oceania

2. Post (1995)

The opening song on "Post", Army of Me is loud, its synths reiterating its lyrics as Björk's sings "...and if you complain once more, you'll meet an army of me". It's not a subtle start, but it's a deeply enigmatic one as the album's next song, Hyperballad - my personal favourite of her 35 year career - exemplifies. Hyperballad's synths are a lot more restrained, as are her vocals, but its lyrical intensity is unrestrained. Björk loves to write love songs and this is her tour-de-force, the centerpiece of them all - perhaps the song that she will be remembered by. It's genius, musically and lyrically. "Post" is likely Björk's most stylistically and life-stylistically telling album, - the albums closing track Headphones is a chilling testament to music in which Björk's whispers are layered underneath her real vocals to create a beautiful effect that resonates her meaning and reminds you how beautiful a poet she is.

Best song: Hyperballad

1. Homogenic (1997)

"Homogenic" doesn't transcend Björk and it doesn't push any boundaries but what it does do is combine every influence of Björk's into a package so perfectly put together, so beautiful and so ugly, so catchy and so avant-garde that it's hard NOT to put it at the top of this list. Not only are all ten of the songs on "Homogenic" absolutely incredible, it is paced brilliantly and contains the perfect mix of Electronic, Experimental and Pop music. Jóga's atmospheric soundscapes and emotionally gripping lyrics are just unequaled; Hunter's head-bopping beat is fantastically worked throughout the song, almost becoming a drone; and Bachelorette's grandiosity is fitting for a Bond movie. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts on "Homogenic", though, and it's something one must realize before listening to this album: "Homogenic" is an attestation to everything that musicians did right in the '90s. A lot of people like to say that Radiohead's "OK Computer" is the greatest album of 1997, if not the '90s altogether, but it isn't - "Homogenic" is.

Best song: Hunter

Sunday, 2 December 2012

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