Songs of the Week: "Atopos," "Ovule"

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I was very late to Bjork. I only "discovered" her by accident while researching "trip-hop" a few years ago, and found her name associated with its founding. I listened to a song or two on YouTube, and went out the next day and bought every then-existing Bjork album and listened to all of them over the next few days. It became immediately apparent that not only had I missed something very special, but that Bjork is arguably one of the true living musical geniuses -- and not just rock music, but almost any music, since she dabbles in anything and everything she hears, often channeling those influences into something remarkable.

For anyone else (like me) who may have lived under a ridiculously large rock and is unfamiliar with Bjork, she is Icelandic, and has been producing extraordinary music for almost three decades (July 2023 will mark the 30th anniversary of her debut album, entitled (of course, since this is Bjork) Debut). Her music runs the gamut from trip-hop to rock to disco to jazz to gamelan to avant garde to post-modern classical and beyond. Much of her music, particularly in the first decade or two, is beat-oriented: rhythms -- which can include dance, tribal, jazz, and "World" -- are the foundation of that period. Her lyrics are minimalist, esoteric, often poetic, and always brilliant. Her voice is indescribable: something between a jazz singer, an opera singer, and a 10-year-old child. Her phrasing is both bizarre and inevitable. She is also known for pushing the boundaries of music videos, using state-of-the-art techniques, costumes that bring to mind David Bowie and Genesis-era Gabriel (with a generous dose of opera), and imagery that is sometimes breath-taking.

After dropping albums consistently every two to three years since 1993, Bjork took a break after her 2017 album, Utopia, and is just about to release her first album in five years, tentatively entitled Fossora. And based on the two songs she has released thus far, it is going to be extraordinary.

The first song/video released, "Atopos," is a gamelan-inspired paean to "connection" (or lack thereof). Using an ultra-heavy driving Indonesian dance rhythm (in the video, provided by a costumed DJ) and a sextet of clarinets (from contrabass to soprano), the song is propelled forward relentlessly as she sings about connection (and its loss) -- a subject that is near and dear to her heart. Wearing costumes that would make Lady Gaga jealous (and Bjork was doing this when Lady Gaga was still in a stroller), Bjork offers one of her most poetic lyrics yet, and her facial expressions alternate perfectly between joy (when talk about connection) and sadness and concern (when talking about the lack of connection).

The second song/video released, "Ovule," has quickly become among my absolute favorite Bjork compositions. Opening with a wonderful brass section figure (and undergirded entirely by this brass section, a light rhythm arrangement, and a peek-a-boo synthesizer part that resembles vox), Bjork sings one of her most esoteric lyrics yet: if it is about love (which I believe to be the case), it is love in an increasingly cyber-infused universe. Initially wearing one of her wildest, and yet simultaneously elegant, costumes (first in red, then in black), the imagery here is all reds and blacks; water; ethereal cloud-like forms; and one image of a woman being buried in what looks like black sand. Her other two "costumes" are either completely or partially computer-generated, Bjork once again using the absolute state-of-the-art in her video work. The closing image -- in which her partially computer-generated self and costume are enveloped in a red egg -- is simply fabulous.

One of the comments on the YouTube thread for this video suggests that, "If she continues at this high level of creativity, she's going to explode." That pretty much says it all.

It has been a very long time since I have awaited a new album as eagerly as I am awaiting Fossora.

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