Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reviews from the Attic: Björk - Homogenic

Björk Homogenic [One Little Indian]
Released: September 22nd, 1997

by Debbie Chou

You will rarely find an album beautifully combined with strings and electronic beats like Björk’s Homogenic. Later in her career, albums like Vespertine was choir-centric; Medulla was a cappella; Volta was extremely heavy on the beats. I consider Homogenic to be her last symphonically constructed album. It is in the same category as Radiohead’s OK Computer—you find something new each time you listen to it. Without the beats in these songs, we would have a well-crafted collection of modern chamber music. Enter programmers Mark Bell and Howie B to Björk’s vision and we have one of the best electronic albums of all time.

It begins with the fluttering beats and mysterious chromatics of “Hunter,” setting the scene for us that she is no doubt “going hunting.” The cellos bring in a marching motif that can easily be viewed as cliché, but suddenly the tone changes: she wails, “I thought I could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me” over major chords, followed by layers upon layers of her Icelandic folk singing, building up to a peak and falling back down to her hunting quest.

The third track, “Unravel,” is my favorite Björk song. Pay attention to how the instruments in the background intertwine delicately. It is as if one was dancing on ice with ballet shoes while taking deep, steady breaths. I openly wept when she performed it live at Madison Square Garden in 2007. It was the first time I cried at a live concert, though certainly not the last (and the most recent sob fest was at MSG again for LCD Soundsystem’s final show.

We are woken up from this dream by the suspenseful strings and harp that lead us to “Bachelorette.” The piano provides a steady tango rhythm. I tend to forget how simple her melody is because of so much color behind her. And when was the last time you heard a pop song with timpani?

In “5 Years,” each verse is higher and busier than the previous one until her final “I dare you, I dare you, I dare you,” which is preceded by a glorious string choir where the beats drop out for the first time. The underlying strings add fuel to her fire and stubbornness. It is easy to overlook this song because of its repetition. As I listen to this again I am more in awe of the thought behind the orchestration.

To give the listeners a final treat, in comes “Pluto,” the only dance track on the album. It is not the happiest kind of dance track. It brings a sense of urgency, especially in the end where her vocals are primal and confrontational.

Homogenic is truly about love, but as she describes, "love isn't just about two persons. It's everywhere around you." Messages like “don’t get angry with yourself—I’ll heal you (“All Neon Like") and “you’ll be given love, you have to trust it” (“All Is Full Of Love"). No one can argue that Björk’s voice isn't unique, but with her Icelandic background, musical knowledge and connections, and thoughts on relationships, she boldly creates music that challenges us as listeners and human beings.

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