Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Björk Marathon: Medúlla

After Vespertine, Björk wanted to create an entirely "vocal album" and has said that she wanted to create an album of just-vocals with little to no instrumentation since she was a teenager, particularly around the KUKL period when at the time she was still searching for her identity as a singer.

That album, released in August 2004, would be Medúlla, one of her bravest and most unique and interesting albums to date.


Björk has also stated that the album was influenced by her being pregnant with her daughter, Ísadóra, and how she felt that since giving birth to her, she had been lazy, that there was this urgency to go back to the roots of singing which essentially started from humans singing acapella. Furthermore, she also considered the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the time to be an influence to the politically charged nature of the album. The character on the cover is like the title, where Björk has stated represents:

"...the 5,000 year-old blood that's inside us all; an ancient spirit that's passionate and dark, a spirit that survives." 

Just by listening to this album alone, Medúlla was not an easy project. Though simple, it was pretty ambitious. Though this album is not the entirely acapella album that she originally planned with some instrumentation being featured (like the piano, gong, and bass synthesizer), it's a pretty fascinating album that also showcases the vocal talents of throat singer Tanya Tagaq, hip hop beat boxer Rahzel, Japanese beatboxer Dokaka, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Soft Machine drummer/singer Robert Wyatt, and several choirs, and of course she got frequent collaborator Mark Bell to produce alongside her.

I find it interesting how despite how high-concept this album is, it would, at the time of its release, be Björk's highest charting album in the USA, making it at the #14 spot. Not surprisingly, it gained general acclaim from critics and got nominated for two Grammy awards. I think most fans, though maybe they didn't love or entirely understand this album, did appreciate it for what it stands for. I for one actually really adore and love this album. I love how dark it is, but it's far from gloomy. It's adventurous, sonically challenging, interesting, beautiful, but most of all, because of its eccentricity, it's memorable. But that's not to say that this is "easy listening" nor is this to say that one can listen to this entire album without skipping a track or two. Not every track is amazing here. Some are forgettable, but there are many glorious, shining moments on this that makes Medúlla a classic.

The opener of this album is The Pleasure is All Mine. It's so breathtaking.


Where Is The Line? is to me like the younger brother of Army of Me. See why?


Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) is triumphant, a kind of love letter to anyone who has your back in times of need and even when you aren't in need.


Desired Constellation just blows me away with Björk's woeful cry:

"How am I going to make things right?"


Oceania is a stand out for obvious reasons. It's probably the only real accessible song on this album.


Mouth's Cradle is a song about breastfeeding. It also has a political edge to it, even referencing two political figures (which shows how dated it is listening to it now, lol).


The only other accessible (and most beat box driven) track on this album is the adorable Triumph of the Heart.


I may be in the minority here, but I also really loved the least accessible tracks, such as the stunning and heartfelt Vökuró (Vigil), which is based off of an Icelandic poem, written by poet, Jórunn Viðar. The even sweeter thing about this song is that at the time when Björk first considered putting her rendition of it on this album, when she was pregnant, she had no clue that she'd have a little girl, and the poem coincidentally was about a mother singing to her daughter. Sounds like it was fate!


I also really liked Sonnets/Unrealities XI, which was based off of the poem It May Not Always Be So; And I Say by E.E. Cummings.


Medúlla is an album that is not only about the raw human voice being the star, but it's an album that's entirely built around atmosphere and tone, which in and of itself is created through cut-up, sampled, and processed vocals, beat noises, and the clicking of tongues to create that atmospheric haze. It's not my favorite album of Björk's but it's by far one of the albums I really do cherish and appreciate.

Five singles/music videos were released around this album era:

Oceania

 

Who Is It? 

 Where Is The Line

Desired Constellation 

Triumph of the Heart


No concerts or tours were arranged for Medúlla, but Björk did a few promotions, all of them quite stunning actually, such as:

Her 2004 Olympic Games performance of Oceania, where she opened the games with this International Olympics Committee commissioned track. As the song unfolds, so does her dress, literally!


She went on an interview with Jonathan Ross, where she performed a bell choir mix of Who Is It with Rahzel.




She appeared on the French television show Album de la Semaine at Canal Studio, performing a set of six songs.


She performed in Tokyo, Japan, for the Live 8 benefit concert, performing a set of 9 songs with Matmos, Zeena Parkins, and a Japanese string octet.


And she also performed a concert in her home country Reykjavik, Iceland in support of the Icelandic Nature Preserve, billed alongside fellow Icelandic artists Ghostigital, Sigur Rós, and Múm to name a few.

And she'd also release 2 DVD's, which are part of my collection of course:

The Making of Medúlla - Inner Part of an Animal or Plant Structure 



This documentary is only 50 minutes, but it's minutes well-spent. It's one thing to listen to a nearly acapella record, but to see the making of it is even more fascinating and interesting. Here you see Björk at work, being so involved in everything from the production and the arrangements, where you see a true virtuoso at work, and doing it so well too. And this is probably the first documentary of hers where we truly see how Björk collaborates with other artists and how they all work together with her on the project that Björk is clearly emotionally invested into as is evident in her interviews in this too. The highlights of this documentary? These performances at their rawest form:

The Pleasure Is All Mine 


Who Is It

 


 Mouth's Cradle


And she released Björk: Medúlla Videos. 


This DVD contains all of the videos from this era (obviously), and also includes a bonus feature of the making of Triumph of the Heart. And honestly, that making of that song is the real reason to purchase this one. It's not only a really fascinating trip to Iceland, to the now defunct dive bar, Sirkus, and about the auditioning process of getting the right cast and the right cat to star in this video, but it's also pretty amusing how they tie it in alongside an interview with a disgruntled fan who got turned down during auditions! Seriously, it's pretty fun stuff, and worth buying just for that bonus feature.

Another thing I must note about this era that I also adored was the fashion, oh, the promo photos!






After these releases, promo shoots, and performances, that was pretty much a wrap for the Medúlla era. Her reasons for not touring Medúlla was because she wanted to work on another album straight away, and because she felt that this album would be far too difficult to perform live. Though that may be true, much later down the line, at around 2011, she'd revisit songs from Medúlla, performing them live for the Icelandic TV show, Átta Raddir. She performs some of them in Icelandic, of course. And boy, aren't these performances truly stunning! Here they are:

Oceania

Pleasure Is All Mine

Where Is the Line


Seriously, this era in her music just...still blows me away. Medúlla is truly one of a kind!


2 comments:

  1. That Oceanea video is one of my favorites. Sparkly!

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    Replies
    1. Oh yes she's definitely a "Goddess Sparkle" in that one!

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