Lost Treasures – Bjork’s “Medulla” Revisited

There’s a huge difference between viewing the video of a baby’s birth and witnessing the squalling, chaotic, fluid spewing event up close and in person.  Bjork’s Medulla peels off some layers and allows us to move a little closer to the act of creation. Missing are the  lush orchestrations she usually employs to frame her muse. Bjork maintains her aesthetic despite the fact she takes a 180 degree turn away from orthodox instrumentation. Medulla gives us a record equipped only with the most primal tool of human expression; the voice.  Not just an a cappella exercise, Medulla (in typical Bjorkian fashion) redefines the voice’s function as a musical delivery medium.  Many artists before have tried their hand at the ‘all vocal’ album. But, none have succeeded as Bjork has on Medulla.  Her mission is to not just celebrate the voice, but to subvert, distort and manipulate it into a third entity.  Part human, part synthetic, and 100 % unique . Even the drumbeats on the album are produced by vocal slight of hand.

Before Medulla, the trajectory of her studio work was admirably logical. Every album was a consolidation and advancement over the one previous. Post (Bjork’s brilliant second album), took Debut’s fusion of organic and electronic elements and pumped up the drama by accenting  the electric and eclectic.  On Homogenic (Bjork’s third album), the Icelandic String Octet shared  the spotlight with massive electronic beats to help define a new genre (Icelandic Neoclassical Soul/Pop).  When Bjork followed up with Vespertine, the strings had expanded it’s role to a grand, orchestral scale augmented with a full female choir; the big beat replaced by a shower of skittering micro beats buzzing around the stereo spectrum like flying audio insects.  After Vespertine Bjork was at a crossroads artistically.  She chose to roll the commercial dice and challenge her audience.  There are some remarkable highlights on Medulla.

“Where Is The Line With You” is the most ‘off the wall’ track on Medulla. For me,  it carries the benign menace of a 50’s science fiction movie but manages to do it with a smile and a wink.  It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what she’s carrying on about.  It’s a meticulous cacophony.  The joy of noise for it’s own sake. Special mention to Faith No More frontman Mike Patton for adding extra menace and color to this amazing track.

“Oceania” is the prettiest track on the album.  A female chorus swirls around the main melody like glissando piano runs.  However, the result is otherworldly. On this track–like most of Medulla—you will hear sounds you’ve never heard on a record before .Bjork – Oceania

“Triumph Of A Heart” is the closest thing to a commercial single on the album.  It’s catchy and wacky.  Japanese vocalist Dokaka is allowed to have his way with TOAH and leaves his indelible mark on the track.  And like any strong seasoning, a little Dokaka goes a long way.watch toah 

“Mouths Cradle” is an ambitious piece.  More than any other track, “Mouths Cradle” seems the most comfortable in its skin.  Both extremes of Medulla merge seamlessly on the track; the organic and technological.

At times the performances on Medulla are so raw and immediate, you get the feeling the writing process ended mere nanoseconds before the record button was pressed. At other times it seems you’re eavesdropping on an artist in holy communion with her muse.  If you want to hear the true essence of Bjork, this is the album to own. It’s hard to call this album her masterpiece. The overall excellence of  of her early period is hard to dismiss.  However on a purely creative level, Medulla may well be Bjork’s greatest achievement.


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