I Listened to Every Björk Album in One Sitting
By Liam Hansen (he/him)
Björk Guðmundsdóttir is somehow legendary without being a star. There isn’t a specific song you can point to as a big hit, nor a specific point in time where an album took off. Hell, I feel like I can’t remember when I wasn’t aware of her existence. Unfortunately, my actual introduction to her music came through BL anime, scouring through the songs referenced in the episode titles of Given and becoming enamoured by her ‘Like Someone In Love’ cover. Tracks from her first three albums were solidified into my playlists from Year 11 onwards, but what about the rest of them? Are they better? Weirder? Worse? I have no clue, and I’ve always hated that fact up until now. Without any skips, I listened to them all.* Eight hours of pure, Icelandic, experimental art-pop.
*Editor’s note: Only her studio discography was included, as much as we love the live albums too, Björk!
You know how drum and bass is shit? You don’t like it because it’s good, you like it because you remember being in the moment at R&V whilst off your fucking mind. Some of Debut is like that, except better. It really feels like it should be experienced whilst in a dingy Icelandic club full of strangers, where everything is woozy and slightly off-kilter. Unfortunately, I listened to it alone in my bedroom, making the off-key synths and vocals a bit harder to swallow. Since I’m normie scum, I think the weird-ass dance tracks can take away from the generally good album at times when they’re interspersed with beautiful tracks like ‘The Anchor Song’ and ‘Venus As A Boy’. It’s great, but I wouldn’t recommend it as your first Björk album. I appreciate her pulling a “crying in the bathroom at a party” edit 25 years early though.
Have you ever gone back to an album you liked a lot a few years ago and discovered that it had a WAY bigger effect on you than you remember? That was Post for me. This album is damn near perfect. All of my issues with Debut are almost completely rectified: the art-poppier tunes are what this album focuses on, with expansions into the trip-hoppy sounds that would later define her career, and the avant-dance songs on here compared to Debut contain newfound confidence in her performances and production. Plus, I was down bad as FUCK in 2020 and ‘I Miss You’ hit a bit too hard for my liking. 11/10.
Sound design. Holy shit, sound design. What the fuck did Björk go through to pull some of these ideas out of the ether? Every single aspect of these songs is so crisp and clear, with tiny aspects in the mix that are borderline ASMR inducing, and her lyrics are the most mature they’ve been yet. Also, the DRUMS! A big stylistic benchmark for Björk is her glitchy, rapid-fire drum beats that end up almost providing their own melodies to the rest of the song through various effects. This is her most well-produced album, and the next time you buy fancy new headphones, chuck this on and have a fun time ascending.
This was the first album that I hadn’t heard before, and I’m incredibly mad about that fact. The individual sounds and stems on this are fairly similar to Homogenic, but they’re oftentimes isolated without the layers of sound that the former album excelled at. Her vocals, my God, she turned herself into a choir and a half. There are SO many “oooooh's” in this record and it is glorious. She continues to break new ground with her voice, using more soft tones, which lead to some of the best screams in music history. Her breaths have been compressed to be so loud and close to your ear and it’s just insane to listen to an album like that. What on earth can that strange little woman do with her voice that she hasn’t done yet!?
Oh… She can become Pentatonix, I guess? To be fair to Medulla, I gave it the short end of the stick. It was doomed to become my Lunch Record™, so half listening to it while eating leftover butter chicken probably wasn’t super fair. Medulla is an a capella album, but they just kinda gave up on a couple tracks and added in standard glitchy instrumentals. It’s a cool enough idea, but half of these songs are underwhelming and the other half are unintentionally hilarious. What was going on in the background of ‘Ancestors’? I don’t think I want to know. Far from terrible, but not her best.
There is a limit to the number of horns I can take in one album. Volta goes over that tenfold, and also Timbaland is there for some reason? She plays around with chants and hooks more on songs like ‘Earth Intruders’, which is cool, and she replaced her usual orchestral/electronica mix with traditional instruments and too many goddamn horns. I like her screams of “RAISE YOUR FLAG!” on the finale and how she seemed to become in touch with dubstep years before it hit the mainstream, but there’s really one main issue with this album other than the fucking horns: it’s the mixing. Björk has the best track record when it comes to amazing sound design, but the album just constantly sounds flat and dull. ‘The Dull Flame of Desire’ is beautiful though, and I really wish she did duets on her studio albums more often!
This is Björk’s Hail To The Thief: not the most boundary-pushing work but good music regardless. This is where her style of dreamy, experimental pop largely surfaced, mixed together with some great political and environmental messages. So much of this album takes place with silence or a single instrument behind her vocals, and her ongoing experiments with new media art also largely stemmed from this era. A lot of her great modern ideas were clearly formed in this record, but maybe not yet in their most impactful state.
By this point, I had had Björk playing for about six and a half hours straight, and I had long earlier realised that this was not a great method to review a discography. Vulnicura repackages a lot of ideas from Biophilia and makes them much, much better. I mean, it’s the breakup album in her discography. Seldom do we see women in their late forties create a breakup album, let alone do it so well (still love you, Adele). This is driven by its narratives, both auditory and lyrical. It’s slower-paced, oftentimes ambient, and overall, bloody gorgeous. The issue was, my brain felt fucking fried by that point and the rapid-fire drum beats that were still a staple at this point in her career were getting to be a bit much.
This was what I needed. Maybe Biophilia was about nature, but Utopia is nature, running through an enchanted forest with magical beings surrounding you. Up until this point I kept thinking - “Is she ever gonna do a folky album?” and by God, I Got My Folky Album! It collects everything I love about her former albums and calms them down in a lovely acoustic manner. I had gone through so many hours of harsh sounds and rapid drums that a slower-paced album like this - which may not be for everyone - was just so seamlessly beautiful that I can't help but believe it was her best since Vespertine.