Bjork - Volta

Clark Summers 05/06/2007

Björk continues to push the boundaries on her sixth studio album “Volta” having assembled an all-star international cast this time out that includes improvisational drummer Chris Corsano, Brian Chippendale (Lightening Bolt), Antony Hegarty, Timbaland and Toumani Diabete.

Opener “Earth Intruders” is a pulsating “beast with many heads”, its hypnotic rhythm pulsing out for almost six minutes - as an opening statement of intent it's extremely impressive and sets the tone for what follows. “Wanderlust” a mixture of eerie sounding brass and glitchy electonica (courtesy of LFO man Mark Bell) is wonderfully odd but strangely accessible - powered along by a driving vocal performance the background instrumentation almost seems superfluous by contrast. “The Dull Flame Of Desire” takes the album into avant-garde territory, this duet with Antony Hegarty (Antony and The Johnsons) conjures up images of Viking long-boats crossing the North Sea in thick fog, the siren voiced Björk luring them on to the rocks with her delicate tones. The Timbaland assisted “Innocence”, a jerky slice of minimal electro R 'n' B is one of the album's obvious stand-outs both musically and lyrically - Björk urging the listener to overcome fear and realise their true potential (“fear is a powerful drug / overcome it and you think you can do anything”). “I See Who You Are” sounds rather weak by comparison; a formless and decidedly experimental outing most notable for Min Xiao-Fen's delicately played pipa. The foreboding “Vertebrae By Vertebrae” wanders into murky jazz territory, developing organically but perhaps a little too slowly over five minutes - regardless of this minor gripe it does feature a sumptuous vocal performance that shows off Björk's impressive range. “Pneumonia” follows a similar low-key path, under-stated brass again framing a bewitching vocal. The slightly more conventional “Hope” follows, a lovely collaboration with Malian kora player Toumani Diabete. “Declare Independence” always feels like it's on the verge of exploding into life and when it does it sounds like some kind of jarring barrage of industrial noise. The harsh edge is taken off somewhat by the airy minimalism of closer “My Juvenile” which veers in an ambient direction.

“Volta” is undoubtedly a challenging listen, there are few obvious pop moments (this is certainly no “Debut”) and it will probably leave the listener baffled at first. However Björk's courage in releasing such a record should be lauded particularly in an age where bland indie conformity / plastic pop rule the roost. “Volta” may not be the commercial return to form some had hoped for but it's a fine record nevertheless.