Tenth album finds inspiration in nature and humanity, upholding her uncompromising, singular vision with a synthesis of the digital and the organic
Recent years have seen Björk move in increasingly abstracted and divergent ways, exploring different soundworlds with each release while upholding an uncompromising, singular vision. Tenth album Fossora is arguably her most varied album for some time, certainly in how it reconciles the ‘head’ and ‘heart’ elements of her music.
It sees her continuing to find inspiration in nature and humanity, and if we specifically take into account the video for Atopos, also mushrooms and fungi. Musically the focus is on the clarinet which crops up on several tracks, although it also incorporates strings and electronics, very much successfully presenting a synthesis of the digital and the organic.
The album opens with the two singles, Atopos and Ovule which go some way to showcasing the different sides of Fossora. The former may feature some of her usual structural complexity in the background but also has an offsetting directness certainly in the pounding percussion which ends the track. Björk described Ovule as her “definition of love, a meditation about us as lovers” but there’s also more to suggest it as some sort of paean to procreation. The caressing looped clarinet adds a softer, counterbalancing touch and overall it’s one of the album’s most accessible moments. The curious glitchy interstitial Mycelia follows before two tracks arrive that were inspired by the death in 2018 of Björk’s mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir.
Sorrowful Soil is perhaps one of the album’s most distinct offerings, its polyphonic vocals allowing for a moment of contemplation, a glimpse of purity amid the surrounding dynamic musical activity. Ancesstress has more in the way of human warmth, especially in how relatively isolated her voice appears. Lyrically it’s full of love and revealing openness but in a very Björk-like way. She movingly admits “my ancestress’ clock is ticking, her once vibrant rebellion is fading” before going on to add how “she had an idiosyncratic sense of rhythm” and “she invents words and adds syllables”. It proves how her vocals are as pinpoint as ever while also featuring her son Sindri Eldon Þórsson (her daughter Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney also makes an appearance on album closer Her Mother’s House).
The second half of the album continues to provide striking shifts and confronting moments. Fungal City sees the intricate clarinet intro beaten into submission by more in the way of unforgiving electronic rhythms (with additional contributions from serpentwithfeet) and a sense of chaos infiltrates the industrial Trolla-Gabba as the track slides disorientingly back and forth. It is one of three tracks to feature Kasimyn from Indonesia duo Gabber Modus Operandi. The title track is another which brings more deranged percussion, the other musical elements quickly being overtaken. It’s a reminder of how she still does musical extremity very well. By way of contrast, Victimhood and Allow are two fluid, impressionistic sonic canvasses which are happier to sit further towards the background.
As with all Björk albums there’s a lot to unpack and it requires several listens before it all begins to fall into place but, once done, there’s a case to be made for this possibly being the best Björk album (and certainly the most animated) since 2011’s Biophilia certainly in terms of breadth, aesthetic and overall engagement.