After the release of Debut, Björk was looking to explore not only a broader range of sounds but a wider range of collaborators on the follow-up Post (an album she referred to at the time as “musically promiscuous”). Featuring input from the likes of Tricky, Graham Massey, Howie B and Nellee Hooper again, it ricocheted around from the explosive aggression of the first single Army of Me, to the womb-like warmth of Headphones, via her most parodic single, It's Oh So Quiet. The album's best moment, however, is perhaps its simplest. Featuring a gently fluttering keyboard melody and layers of cascading electronics, Hyperballad highlights Björk's ability to filter everyday experiences – in this case trying to remain true to yourself in the throes of a relationship – through a slightly surreal lyrical prism. Not many songs can feature a line like “I imagine what my body would sound like, slamming against those rocks” and still remain so beautiful. And when the repeated refrain of “safe up here with you” disintegrates among the gliding strings and mesh of electronic textures, it's almost too lovely to bear.
After Post, her relationship with Goldie and a brush with a mentally ill fan propelled her into the tabloids, Björk left her adopted London home and retreated to Iceland to start writing what would become Homogenic. Working with Warp records affiliate Mark Bell, the album's sound was built entirely around crunchy, volcanic beats and beautifully widescreen, almost comically epic string arrangements to reflect the two sides of Iceland's natural landscape. Dedicated to both Iceland and her best friend Jóhanna Jóhannsdóttir, the supernaturally uplifting Jóga manages to weave personal reflections (“coincidence makes sense only with you”, “you don't have to speak, I feel”) with a chorus that encapsulates how it feels to be so emboldened by someone you love that it's almost terrifying. Purposefully made chart ineligible, Jóga also marked the moment Björk started to retreat from the pop world into the more experimental margins.
Resting somewhere between an emboldening mantra, an adult fairytale and a tearful lament written for a soldier gone to war, Homogenic's Unravel is Björk at her most straightforward. Co-produced alongside Guy Sigsworth, who fills the song's space with delicately cascading synths and funereal pipe organ, the song is built around one of Björk's most devastatingly simple lyrics. “While you are away, my heart comes undone, slowly unravels in a ball of yarn” she sing-speaks, replicating the vocal technique used by Icelandic choir men for centuries before. “The devil collects it, with a grin, our love, in a ball of yarn,” she continues. Inverting the theme of absence making the heart grow fonder, Björk almost splits into two characters, painfully lamenting her loss with the line “he'll never return it”, before a soothing chorus of “so when you come back, we'll have to make new love” blows in like a warm breeze.
Who Is It?
Built around the different textures of the human voice – utilising beatboxing, choral arrangements and a Canadian throat singer – parts of 2004's ambitious Medulla album may have sounded like cats coughing up fur balls, but there was also a clutch of gorgeous pop melodies at its core. Written at the end of the sessions for Vespertine (originally as a collaboration with Polish producer Bogdan Raczynski), first single Who Is It was held back from that album's introverted delicacy, due to it being “from a different family” and “a very physical song”. Constructed around an intricate rhythm track provided by beatbox maestro Rahzel, with a chorus of bells added for the single version, Who Is It's multi-layered verses – peppered with distant “oohhs” and what sound like strange, wordless animal noises – melt into a big, melodious chorus that showed that despite her disappearance from daytime radio, Björk still knew how to make something resembling a crowd singalong.
Having been driven to distraction while filming Dancer in the Dark, 2001's Vespertine represented somewhat of a hermit-style retreat. Densely layered with fragile microbeats, soft pillows of backing vocals and the overall feel of being submerged in an all-encompassing duvet, Vespertine is littered with defining moments. While the first single Hidden Place, the choir-assisted Undo and the Matmos collaboration Aurora are among the highlights, it's Cocoon that best represents the album's sense of heavy-lidded, post-coital hibernation. Based around an exploratory bassline and beats that sound like fingertips on skin, it feels almost intrusive, like reading someone's diary as they write about a new love (Björk had just started a relationship with artist Matthew Barney). Flitting between metaphor (“who would have known that a boy like him would have entered me lightly, restoring my blisses”) and over-sharing (“He slides inside, half awake, half asleep … gorgeousness, he's still inside me”), it also shows off another side to Björk's voice; a whispered, near-cracking falsetto and a breathy ecstasy.
which are your top 10 bjork songs ontd?