Icelandic singer and producer Björk (“Country Creatures”) released her tenth studio album “Fossora” on September 30. The album comes five years after the release of his last project, “Utopia”, inspired by folktronica. “Fossora” takes on a new sound that lives up to the offbeat techno-jazz promised by the singles “Atopos” and “Ovule”. Whether the album’s all-out embrace of hardcore gabber works shrewdly or gratingly is another question.
The overall sound of “Fossora” is a coalescence of lovely wind sections from clarinets and trombones aided by hard, pounding techno hits. They can electrify a track like “Atopos” with an injection of both experimentation and dance. As the first single, “Atopos” sounds like a fusion of nature, represented by an orchestra, and technology, represented by electronics, a common theme in Björk’s music. Its lyrics lament a lover’s hesitation to commit, asking “Aren’t these just excuses not to hook up?” The song’s fierce closing leaves us with murderous beats and Björk’s pleas that “hope is a muscle.”
“Ovule” is a meditation with more compassion than the fairy-diva evoked on “Atopos”. Björk sings of the enchantment of a glass egg as a metaphor for conceiving a future with this lover, thanks to their “romantic intelligence” and their “sensual tenderness”. The song is led by triumphant trombones and a subtle drumbeat from electronic trio Sideproject (“Isis Emoji”). “Ovule” is a theatrical, warm and remarkable piece with a melody that treats the ear like a velvet cake.
These tracks open the album and leave a listener drawn into an experience of energy and beauty. It’s painful to say that for most of this album, the energy gives headaches, and the beauty wears down its welcome with its lack of direction and awkward abstraction.
The rest of the album imposes itself with ideas that seem impressive but whose execution is far too long. In “Ancestress”, Björk mourns the death of her mother. It hurts to say, but the track does not justify its seven-minute duration. The emotional chorus feels out of place in a cacophony of bells, cheesy pizzicato, clock-on-the-nose samples, and rhythmically and thematically jarring gabber beats.
The title track tackles the blunt of the aforementioned issues to a screaming extreme. Björk doubles down on the fungal imagery by describing spores projected towards the ground, “which penetrate concrete and plastic”. The clarinets are reminiscent of the jazzy edge of “Atopos,” but the underlying rhythms sound like a bored baby squeaking a dog toy into the mic. The last half is pure rattle and noise torture. The repetition of the title is the most cruel fight to be completely disconnected from the disc.
Three times on the album, Björk includes random interludes that are the arc to the album’s kind message of overcompensation. “Mycelia” and “Trölla-Gabba” have such oddly dry and jerky production that one wonders if it went on a 100-gec frenzy (“Doritos and Fritos”). The mix of dissonant a capella and vocal splicing emulates those wooden train whistle toys you find at craft shows. “Trölla-Gabba” in particular adds those harsh metallic noise samples that sound like a suicide bomber slaughtering a bunch of circus animals.
The harshly ethnic title of the third interlude, “Fagurt Er í Fjörðum”, may sound like a homophobic gnome taunt, but the lyrics come from Icelandic poet Látra-Björg and describe the beauty of the country’s landscape. In the context of the album, it seems last minute, but it’s sentimental enough to warrant its place.
This album marks the return of an aging queen with something to say to her subjects, but the effort feels like a science experiment gone wrong. “Fossora” is a product of One Little Independent Records.
Image by Björk via YouTube