Sunday, December 28, 2014

Surprises and Scares

Today’s formative-album replay: Björk, Post. Björk has always been a worldbuilder as ambitious and meticulous as Tolkien, Whedon, or Punchdrunk; each of her records is a distinctive, immersive sonic landscape to be inhabited as much as heard, almost to a fault. Indeed, I have to admit I’m a few albums behind on her ouevre--I kind of lost the plot after the virtuosic voice orgy Medulla, and indeed have frequently lost my way within many of her more ethereal icecapades. Even this extraordinary collection--now, unbelievably, about to celebrate its 20th birthday--has a few tracks that work less as songs than as mood fugues, which wobble and wander a bit when plucked outside their natural habitat (popping up in Shuffle, in other words).

On this relisten, though, what struck me anew about Post is its dynamic and metric range, from grand bombast to quivering quiet, from explosive, frog-marching club beats to free-time, almost improvisatory musings. It’s a record, in short, as sweeping in scale and as infinitesimally sensitive as Björk’s vocal instrument itself. From the Bonham-worthy drum boom and woozy, electric-eel synth bass of “Army of Me” to the ghostly echo chamber of “Headphones,” from the swaying string swoon of “You’ve Been Flirting Again” to the cagey, clamped-down frenzy of “Enjoy” and “I Miss You,” Post is a house with many mansions. If I had to locate its dark, swarming heart, I’d pick “Isobel,” a jungly fantasia of animist lust with a low, crackling beat covering the floor and a string orchestra throwing up steep walls that Björk’s voice rappels and bungees from with daredevil abandon (“When she does it/She means to”). I would not pick her spirited cover of Betty Hutton’s bipolar romp “It’s Oh So Quiet,” only because, by a weird bit of luck, I had happened upon Hutton’s blazing original a few years earlier on an LP compilation, and found that Björk’s note-for-note copy (really, the charts are identical) didn’t have that much to add.

What "Oh So Quiet" does do, inarguably, is showcase yet another facet of Björk’s genius--the place where her oddball theatricality intersects with Mickey-and-Judy innocence--as if the expansive multiverse of Post needed yet another dimension. But then, while there’s no shortage of whimsy and excess, of mystery and synchronicity, in Björkland, nothing is truly random; when she does it, she means to.

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