4 out of 5 stars
For an album named after a theory that claims humans have an instinctive bond to other organisms, Biophilia is surprisingly tied to modern technology. Rather than focusing on organic means of musical construction, Bjork’s eighth album was recorded partly with the use of an iPad and is coming out alongside a series of applications for the iPhone. Some of the tracks even feature a Tesla coil synthesizer.
Each of the album’s 10 tracks have a corresponding application and game that can be played in synch with the songs. For the most committed and affluent fans, Nonesuch Records released 200 copies of the “Ultimate Edition” set. Each comes with a 48-page hard-cover manual, one chrome-plated tuning fork for each track and two CDs – all housed within a lacquered oak case. The listed price was $812, and sold out by Aug. 12.
Those looking forward to Bjork stepping into new genres will leave disappointed. While branching out into dub-step rhythms in the bridge of “Crystalline,” Bjork keeps the album largely in familiar territory. Bjork will not be heard on the dance floor until further notice.
Biophilia opens with the party-killing “Moon,” an acoustic string journey that is reminiscent of Bjork’s past endeavors in dark, down-tempo territory on albums like Medulla. Biophilia is soothing, brooding and disturbing at times, but never danceable.
Bjork’s uniqueness stems from her use of both electronic and acoustic sounds. It distinguishes her as an individual artist but has not helped her broach new territory within her own career. Biophilia recombines the ingredients that make Bjork’s songs good, and creates gems like “Moon” and “Mutual Core” that showcase the singer’s talent for making sprawling epic songs.
One new element that Bjork does bring to the album is the organ, used in most songs but particularly notable in “Dark Matter.” The organ gives the pomp in her sound an austere, reverent quality that is not in her other recordings. Eastern-influenced strings in “Sacrifice” also depart from anything else Bjork has done.
Taken at face value, Biophilia is a great addition to a prolific artist’s discography. The album is largely an ambient experience that occasionally touches on heavy dramatics during the start at “Crystalline” and at its climax, “Mutual Core.”
Although it is just a small step forward for Bjork, Biophilia is a solid record nonetheless that could not have been made by any other artist. No one sings like Bjork, and no one else could so convincingly conceive pieces as huge as “Cosmonology,” songs of which sound like they could be on “The Lord of the Rings” soundtrack.
Listeners who have heard “Crystalline” on the radio or on the blogs may be expecting a Bjork album that caters toward fans of the plateauing dub-step craze. But they will not find anything else on Biophilia that matches their taste. The album hints that Bjork will break new ground more in coming albums. Right now it is a record that shows a healthy experimentation with music as a medium more than an effort to break new ground sonically.
Without being revolutionary, Bjork shows her willingness to grow in albums to follow Biophilia. The singer makes it clear with her open-mindedness to new media that she knows what is happening with contemporary music and can still sound fresh after more than a decade of putting out music.