Published December 8, 2011
As most people on Grapevine’s Facebook will know, I recently had the misfortune of losing my cat. True, in the grand scheme of disasters from war and genocide, to massive tsunamis, we’re talking strictly first world problems here. But fuck that. I LOVE that little troll of a fuzzball. And when he went missing for days, there seemed to be a gray emptiness that squatted right in the middle of our lives. It was a truly stressful and miserable time in our house.
After about three days of him being missing, I go to work as usual. While working, and to cheer myself up a bit, I put on ‘Biophilia.’ Like many, I had heard all the breathless commentary that accompanied this release. The three years spent working on the album with the likes of Apple and National Geographic. The myriad of release formats, including an education workshop for children and bespoke iApple apps that allowed you to control and manipulate the music. The world tour of eight city residencies. The custom built instruments, spectacular stage show and costumes. That with this album, she was redefining music, blah, blah, blah. Personally, I didn´t care for it all to be honest. It just seemed that people were talking about everything BUT the music, as if it were a mere afterthought.
But I admit that the album had started to grow on me after several listens. I could see the attraction of the album being used as an educational tool for children. With tracks such as ‘Mutual Core’ and ‘Virus,’ you could truly hear the wonder in her voice, singing of science, space, nature and the human body. It’s that same kind of desire for learning that kids have at a young age when they see something that’s cool and amazing, and they want to know MORE. There’s no “FUCKING magnets, how do they work?” going on here.
So I put the album on and listen. The first track ‘Moon,’ with its intro of lightly plucked strings, brings mental images of the old children’s television show ‘Bagpuss’ for some inexplicable reason. The next track, ‘Thunderbolt,’ contains elephantine synths, as if Bach were in charge of the alien communication scene from Close Encounters. This is followed by ‘Crystalline,’ a song of controlled beats and child-like melodies, that forgets to take its meds in the last minute, going all whacked-out junglist on me.
And then the album arrives at ‘Cosmogony.’ Starting on a choir whose sound seems to act like an angelic comfort blanket, a warm mournful brass feel comes into play (like Jóhann Jóhannsson, Björk knows there’s soul in brass). I find myself listening intently as Björk sings of different creation myths with a tune and vocals that seem almost hymnal. The chorus rises up and swoops around my brain, and… and…
And I start to cry.
We’re not talking misty eyed or a lump in the throat. I’m actually crying. I’m fucking losing it! I quickly walk to the toilets before anyone can see me, where I spend the next five minutes with tears streaming down my eyes and a rope of snot coming out of my nose, all the while the song is still playing. I have to take my headphones off and clean myself up. After a while, I return to work, looking like someone had just crawled inside and yanked my soul out through my eyes.
What the fuck just happened there? Since when did I suddenly turn all emo? I’ve NEVER cried to music before in my life. Sure, in the past music has made me happy to the point of giddiness. It’s also made me sad, relaxed, depressed, angry to the point of violence, even made me want to jump and dance in an instant (case in point—while listening to ‘Locust Sounds’ from Reykjavík!, the chorus of ‘Hellbound Heart’ is such a finely tuned piece of ROCK action, I found myself fist pumping to it while in the meat section of my local Bónus supermarket. True story). But no, music has ever made me physically cry, until now.
And it’s not as if I could call myself a massive fan of Björk. Sure, I truly believe that she is probably the last in her generation of peers still hungry to push new ideas and boundaries. And there have been many of her tracks that I’ve really loved, such as ‘Human Behaviour,’ Hyperballad,’ ‘Declare Independence,’ etc. But often I’ve found that I end up approaching her music with a certain cold detachment, music that’s more an exercise of the head, rather than the heart.
So what does it this mean? God, I wish I knew. All I know is that ‘Biophilia’ is an album that scares me. No, scare is not the right word—wary is probably better. I’m not sure that this was Björk’s intention when she wrote it, but she seems to have made an album that in one small moment, reached into my inner psyche and flayed at my anima until it can’t take any more. I can now listen to ‘Cosmogony,’ but I find that I have to steel myself to the point of numbness, just in case I find myself welling up again. Man, Nico’s ‘The Marble Index’ is a walk in the park with puppies compared to this.
Björk has made a piece of music about science, the cosmos, and human life that has etched a carving on my mental landscape that many local musicians, for all their nice tunes and ditties, will NEVER get anywhere close to repeating.