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Artist: Björk  
Label: Elektra
Length: 14/ 45:45

Strange and beautiful, Medúlla is the latest release from Icelandic wonder Björk. Made up almost entirely of human voices, Medúlla is a disc that challenges, that steps over, and at times completely crushes pop boundaries- and at its core manages to be just really good music.

Björk greets the listener in the first track with a lingering melody, singing softly "the pleasure is all mine...." Harmonized vocals, subtle breathing and a haunting choir interweave throughout- we can tell from this introduction that we're in for something truly distinct.  "Triumph of a Heart" impresses with awesome beatboxing and a human trombone. "Vökúro" and "Sonnets/ unrealities XI" are gorgeous tracks with our Icelandic diva's lead vocals carried by European choirs. "Desired Constellations" sinks deep into introspection with minimal synth rhythms and self-reflective lyrics- "with a palm full of stars/ I throw them like dice/ repeatedly/ onto the table/ repeatedly/ until the desired constellation appears/ how am I going to make it right....", while "Show Me Forgiveness" strips it down to simple acapella. Other tracks mix and mash a bit of it all.

For such a seemingly simple concept, this recording is surprisingly full and variable. Björk's song writing often uses traditional song structure as a diving board, but you will not find a single song on this disc that sounds conventional or normal.  You will always find her twisting some part of the song structure in every track, or producing some erratic, strange noise with her own (or others’) voice to make the song unique.

The overall lack of instrumentation does give the record a rather cold, dry feel throughout; it’s a tough first listen, but this could be inescapable given the concept.  Great melodies make up for it though, including the bubbly pop of “Who Is It” and the thumping, erratic beats of “Where is the Line?”   Björk’s personal and political beliefs pop up once in a while in the lyrics- “I need a shelter to build an alter away/ from all osamas’ and bushes’” she sings in “Mouth’s Cradle”.  But she never forces her opinions
down the listener’s throats- you can disagree with her all you want, but you can’t accuse her of any mere ranting or rodomontade.  She keeps things just subtle enough so that the music stays the most important thing, but she doesn’t hide her opinions either.  

As for the concept- making music with pure human vocals- Björk succeeds. She works absolute wonders with the human voice, stretching its use in nearly every way imaginable, from quiet and breathy background lines, erratic guttural sounds, dissonant melodies, to sweet and thick harmonies. All of this experimentation may be quite hard to swallow for the casual listener, but hey, unless you're Yosemite Sam, a bit of thinking won't hurt ya'.  Björk is a pop artist that refuses to be tamed.

Jonathan Avants 4/23/05



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