Lavin Rant: Bjork’s “Biophilia”


by Mike Lavin


Bjork – Biophilia [One Little Indian; 2011]

It’s interesting to sit back and take a look at Icelandic art pop singer Bjork’s album artwork. Each disc features a different image of Bjork in a different way relating to the album; Debut has a youthful, energetic Bjork; Post has a more abstract background with a much more intense Bjork; Vespertine has a swooning, ornate Bjork; and now Bjork’s eighth studio work Biophilia has one of the more avant-garde outlooks of Bjork with her flamboyant orange hair and overall steampunk appearance with cosmic quality. The image describes the album. Unfortunately, Bjork’s erratic and experimental approach to Biophilia falls short of being anything up to her more powerful material (Post, Homogenic).

Reading up on Biophilia is intriguing. It might be one of the first science and technology-based albums to be released. Bjork even teamed up with Apple to create the “world’s first app album” with corresponding apps connecting to each song to tell more about the story surrounding it and along with live performances. The whole idea is a bit overdrawn; it’s an interesting concept, but just not for me. I listen to the music and let the images come to me and let the music wash over me rather then have to mesh with a computer screen and have something trying to tell me what I should interpret a song as.

Musically, Biophilia is shrill, unbalanced and overbearing. Bjork’s vocals are, as always, put front and center with an authority, but this time it doesn’t have that cute Icelandic charm that past efforts have had. The song structures feel inconsistent and too one-sided; “Dark Matter” is exactly what it sounds like with swelling dark, atmospheric ambience with too much bass while “Solstice” is too much of Bjork’s shrill, eerie vocals. The sorts of drill and bass Bjork plays with on the ending of “Crystalline” and the bridges of “Sacrifice” that blast unnecessarily and have this unattractive feel to them.

Looking on the bright side of Biophilia, “Cosmonogy” is a beautiful, soaring ballad that lifts, possibly, the whole album. “Virus” isn’t bad, but the jangly bells persistent on a lot of the album makes their appearance far too often, but Bjork’s vocals performances on “Cosmonogy” and “Virus” make those two tunes the cream of the crop. The instrumentation feels too spacious on some tracks and two mentioned tracks find a nice median between the ambience and swelling instrumentation. Unfortunately, Biophilia’s bad outweighs its good by a landslide.

Disappointment reeks all over Biophilia with months and months of anticipation made out by music websites, but it’s not all bad. There are tracks like “Cosmonogy” and “Virus” that somewhat make up for the mediocrity of “Sacrifice or “Solstice.” Bjork’s long and illustrious career is very inspiring, but possibilities of reaching an end are unfortunately near with the desperation of attempting a new “app album” idea to spawn a new musical direction. The ideas on Biophilia aren’t bad, just very overbearing and not to my tastes.