Review: Björk – Homogenic

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We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our first throwback album review is of Björk’s 1997 opus Homogenic. Click “continue reading” to check it out.

Björk is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, one of the most eclectic performers in recent popular music memory. She had her first album at the age of 12, and since then has performed with groups and as a solo artist, and has spanned genres as diverse as electronic, punk, jazz fusion, and trip-hop. Homogenic was a departure from her, after her first two adult solo albums were much more dance-oriented. It has been very highly acclaimed since its release.

Zen:

Shall we begin?

Oscar:

Sure, lemme pull up dem questions. I hope you’re proud, I actually took notes on this album, song-by-song and everything.

Zen:

I’m very proud. I also now wonder if I’m prepared enough. Thanks for getting me all self conscious maaan

Oscar:

I’m sure you’ll be fine, my notes aren’t very detailed. OK, so why did you pick this album?

Zen:

I somehow acquired the album about half a year ago. Since then I have consistently bumped “Hunter” and never ventured past that first song. I decided it was time to not be one of those people who only plays one fucking song off an album.

Oscar:

Very good reason.

Zen:

Yeah, self-improvement is an important thing.

Oscar:

Definitely. So what were your overall thoughts?

Zen:

One of the more interesting collections of sounds I’ve heard in a long time. There were things that I really enjoyed, and things that aren’t my personal taste, but I would recommend that everyone give it a listen just to live in its world for a while. Yours?

Oscar:

Yeah, I’d agree. I liked most of it, more than I thought I would. It doesnt feel that dated which was surprising to me.

Zen:

I had that exact thought listening to it.

Oscar:

And you can really see the influence on some current acts. There was a moment somewhere in the late middle of the album that reminded me a lot of The Weeknd. Some vocal loop and percussion combo.

Zen:

STOP IT. YOU ARE SAYING EVERYTHING I AM ABOUT TO SAY. I was literally about to go, “Yeah, I can’t believe I’m about to draw this comparison, but The Weeknd popped up into my brain while listening.” What made you expect to not enjoy it as much as you did?

Oscar:

The reason I was a bit skeptical about the album was partly my general skepticism of music made by white people in the 90s, which you’re familiar with.

Zen:

That’s a completely fair fear. Sometimes I wake up screaming from a bad dream where skinny white males sing to me about their feelings forever.

Oscar:

But also I had heard “Hunter” a few times and that combined with Björk’s rep made me afraid it was gonna be just a super weird electronic-alternative album. I thought the whole thing was gonna be like Radiohead’s weirder stuff on Kid A, but with a female singer who was less talented than them.

Zen:

That’s interesting that the track that made me interested was the track that made you wary. I can see that though.

Oscar:

Word. So what were your bottom 3 songs?

Zen:

“All Is Full Of Love,” “Unravel,” wow it’s really hard to pick a third track. If I had to pick, it’d probably be “Alarm Call.” But really, the only song I couldn’t find interesting was “All Is Full Of Love.” I think it worked in the album, but I just found it boring.

Oscar:

Good calls all round. What was your reasoning behind the other two?

Zen:

I found “Alarm Call” to be too blunt in its message that the world is fucked and we need to love each other. It’s a perfectly fine message, but lyrically I felt like I was being force fed. “Unravel” because I thought it could have been cut shorter. I think it drifted too much and at least in this album, I found Bjork to be less interesting in her slower moments.

Oscar:

Yeah, I can sympathize with both those.

Zen:

What were your 3 bottoms?

Oscar:

“All is Full of Love,” “Pluto,” “All Neon Like.” “All is Full of Love” I have the same reasoning as you – the melody is nice, but ultimately not interesting enough to sustain the whole song.

Zen:

Exactly. Why the other two?

Oscar:

“Pluto” was one of the only songs that felt dated to me, because of the percussion mostly, and all the glitchiness. Also I think it worked against her strengths on the album, which were the marriage of the powerful strings and electronic rhythm section.

Zen:

I agree on both complaints, although I actually enjoyed “Pluto.” I liked hearing Björk go kind of nuts vocally at the end.

Oscar:

Yeah. I mean there wasn’t really a song on the album I actively disliked, just ones that didn’t match the standard of the others.

Zen:

I agree.

Oscar:

“All Neon Like” I didnt like for similar reasons to “All is Full of Love.” The melody was weirder and more interesting, but ultimately it kind of bored me. And also like how many times is this bitch gonna tell me not to get angry with myself?

Zen:

WORD THE FUCK UP

Oscar:

So top 3?

Zen:

Obviously “Hunter” is a top one for me. I think the song is brilliant. You mentioned the marriage of strings and electronics, and I think “Hunter” exemplifies that perfectly.

Oscar:

Yeah, I can get behind that.

Zen:

“Bachelorette.”

Oscar:

Definitely.

Zen:

Yeah I knew you’d agree on that. I was on the train and as soon as that deep piano started I felt like I was off to hunt pirates. And then she has that weird line about a killer whale…

Oscar:

Yeah that was one of my favorite lines.

Zen:

Me too. “Immature” would by my 3rd but it’s a close tie to “5 Years.”

Oscar:

OK yeah.

Zen:

The looping on “Immature” I think is really well done and it’s also a good example of Björk combining her weirdness in a more cohesive song format. However, “5 Years” I thought was most interesting lyrically.

Oscar:

Fair. And vocally “5 Years” is maybe the best performance on the album.

Zen:

Yeah. And those distorted drums are a great paradox for her voice. Your top 3?

Oscar:

Number one for me is “Jóga,” I think.

Zen:

How come?

Oscar:

Mostly because of the hook. “state of emergency,” etc. I thought this was the best example of the electronic/string dichotomy – like, the bass gets super funky in the hook, and the strings accentuate it in a really beautiful symphonic way.

Zen:

Yeah man, dat shit is beautiful.

Oscar:

And then after the hook there’s that weird distorted electronic break – it’s just percussion and it works really well.

Zen:

That song was the only slow one I enjoyed start to finish, for all the reasons you’ve said.

Oscar:

Because it’s slow but not empty. The others are a little too sparse I think.

Zen:

So runner up?

Oscar:

Number 2 is “Bachelorette.” Musically amazing, maybe overall the best musical track on the album.

Zen:

I would not argue with that statement. Killer whales up in this motherfuckah.

Oscar:

Yeah. And I think the whole album she’s cultivating a sort of crazy threatening persona, and that works best on this song. She just sounds really powerful, as a character I mean. Like I would believe she was an Icelandic goddess from some old myth singing her theme song here.

Zen:

Totally. I’m pretty sure while listening to Bachelorette I had a vision of her going off to fight war against oil companies.

Oscar:

Word.

Zen:

And lastly?

Oscar:

I think “Immature.” I liked her turning the lens on herself after so much focus externally.

Zen:

I also liked the way she played with the rhythm of melody on that song.

Oscar:

Yeah.

Zen:

Clearly it had a form, but the way she held back a word here and there I found very cool.

Oscar:

Yeah, although “5 Years” was close too. I really liked the aggression of “5 Years.” Although I was a little disappointed initially that it wasn’t going to be a David Bowie cover.

Zen:

I’m disappointed that most things aren’t David Bowie covers.

Oscar:

Word to that.

Zen:

What were your favorite musical and lyrical moments?

Oscar:

Musical was definitely the end of “Unravel,” leading into “Bachelorette.” Because “Unravel” ends on this high sweet sustained string chord, and then it descends rapidly into the threatening majesty of “Bachelorette,” and it’s one of the best things musically I’ve heard in a long time.

Zen:

I’d organize a rally to agree with that.

Oscar:

Lyrically, I’d say either the repeated “I dare you” in “5 Years,” although I’m not sure that counts as lyrical rather than a musical choice to repeat it, or “I thought I could organize freedom, how Scandanavian of me” from “Hunter.” I’m sure there’s a whole political/cultural level behind that line that I’m utterly unaware of, but I really liked it.

Zen:

I’m sure you’re right, but it also has a sense of playfulness that I like. I enjoyed whenever Björk injected some humor into this album. I think it shows that she’s capable of attacking an album this big in scope without descending to being a pretentious asshat.

Oscar:

Yeah. What were yours?

Zen:

Surprisingly, my favorite lyrical moment is on Alarm Call when she goes, “I’m the fuuuucking Buddha”

Oscar:

Yeah that was a good one. What about musical moment?

Zen:

Musically, and this is more of a general view, I loved the moments where she let her self loose and you felt her anger. When she starts snarling on “5 Years” you know you best get the fuck out of her way.

Oscar:

Yeah.

Zen:

Also, clearly she has a lovely voice, so it was a nice contrast.

Oscar:

Word. This has definitely made me want to check out her other stuff.

Zen:

Me too. Sidebar, this is another one of her songs that I’ve bumped for a long time and it’s probably time I hear the whole album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TapJtBIHkGA and interestingly enough, it’s Timbaland on the production.

Oscar:

Really. OK yeah I’m gonna listen to that. Do you think there was an overarching concept behind this album?

Zen:

Going to sound super cliché, but, “no matter how bad things are, love is needed.”

Oscar:

What makes you say that?

Zen:

Throughout the album she takes the role of observer and casts judgment, be it on herself or the world as a whole. But no matter how pissed off she gets, it seems to always come back to kindness and that at the core, there’s love to be found.

Oscar:

That’s fair.

Zen:

I was surprised that the album totally avoided the fear of computers taking over, or stuff along those lines. That’s what I expected and was pleased to find that instead, she just used all the electronics to make music. Was there a theme you found while listening?

Oscar:

Yeah. Actually I did a little wikipedia research on the album after listening, and it had a quote from an interview where she said that something that interests her about Iceland is that its landscape is very raw, untouched, and ancient but its cities and people are very technologically advanced, and she wanted to represent that through her music. So her goal was to use the strings to represent old, mythical Iceland, the countryside, and the electronics to represent new Iceland, the cities. Also apparently the strings on the album are like the Iceland national string ensemble or something.

Zen:

That’s intriguing. I think she accomplished her goal 100%.

Oscar:

Icelandic String Octet, that’s who it was.

Zen:

I’m glad you did research because I wondered who the strings were a couple of times.

Oscar:

Yeah. So, final score out of ten?

Zen:

8, possibly 8 1/2

Oscar:

Short version of why?

Zen:

Because I think everyone should give it a listen and that’s something I don’t say about a lot of albums.

Oscar:

Good reason.

Zen:

The only reason I’m hesitant about the bump up in ranking is the beefs we’ve already discussed. Like you mentioned about the sparseness of a few tracks, I think more could have been done and I wish it had. Your ranking?

Oscar:

I’d say 8.5

Zen:

Why not higher?

Oscar:

Pretty much what you just said, but I’d say 8.5 because it never gets bad, it’s a good length, and it’s musically very interesting. I’d cite it as an example of how electronic music can be powerful and emotional, which is a discussion a lot of people seem to be having nowadays.

Zen:

Hmm. Yeah. Ok. I’m convinced. Count me in on the 8.5 group.

Oscar:

OK. I’ll give you your pin next time we see each other.

Zen:

Perfect.

Come back next week to read our reviews of Jamie Lidell’s Jamie Lidell, and Television’s Marquee Moon.

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