If anyone could revolutionize the way the world looks upon music, it would be Björk. No other artist challenges her listeners more or takes her music further.
At the start of her prolific career’s third decade, she has created Biophilia—-a valentine to the natural universe using the interfaces of the digital world.
The album, designed as a set of interactive apps—one for each song—-for the iPad and iPhone, required not only musical collaborators, but scientists, engineers, video game designers and film directors to make the project a reality. As the world’s first so-called “app album,” Biophilia symbolizes a revolution before one even presses play.
The album’s music itself departs from the brass-horn experimentation and frankly upsetting Timbaland influences found on 2007’s Volta. Björk gets back to the brilliance she’s known for—unstructured, harrowing melodic journeys through eccentric shapes of sounds. Vespertine’s introverted, gossamer sounds echo through in songs like “Moon” and “Virus,” and Homogenic’s heavy percussive assaults show up in “Crystalline” and “Sacrifice.”
Each song reflects the album’s title in its own way, taking the listener through living snapshots of the unabashedly organic universe surrounding humanity—but for all its evident fragmentation, Biophilia may be Björk’s most cohesive album yet.
A lush, solitary, nocturnal tone permeates every chord and every word. Every element of Biophilia contributes to the bigger picture—-the picture of natural life as an otherworldly realm worthy of awe.
Never one to stray toward the traditional, Björk also created musical instruments and elements to fit the nature within each song. She recorded many of the songs using an iPad, likely something never done before in music. The Tesla coil becomes an instrument on “Thunderbolt,” literally jolting electric energy into the song’s soundscape. Many songs feature the “gameleste,” an instrument combining a gamelan and a celesta created solely for the purpose of making this album a masterpiece.
Yet with all of its flashy, eccentric instrumentation and unconventional production and concept, the bones of Biophilia’s song structures could make a near-perfect album on their own.
Lead single “Crystalline” boasts Björk’s ethereal vocals as they carry a gorgeous, repetitive melody meant to represent crystals growing up from the ground and building upon each other.
“Solstice,” a sparse, haunting track on its own, brilliantly recalls humans’ relationship with gravity. Featuring swinging pendulums and a counterpoint referencing the movement and rotational movements of the planets, the song becomes more than just a symbolic set of lyrics.
“Virus,” composed as a love song on the destructive relationship between a virus and a cell, is a lyrical and artistic triumph in a career full of lyrical and artistic triumphs. Harpsichords and plucked chimes twinkle around the song’s atmosphere, offsetting the leech-like lyrics and Björk’s husky soprano.
“May I, can I or have I too often craved miracles?” she hauntingly wails.
But Björk has never needed to crave miracles—she makes them happen at the snap of a finger.
— Samantha Berkhead