Saturday, April 11, 2015

Björk Marathon: Volta

Between 2007-2011 was perhaps Björk at one of her most busiest and productive place in her career. I only remember it so well because I was fresh into college. Around this time, I was able to really see the progression of one of my most favorite artists of all time take shape and form into this new era.

She contributed a cover of Joni Mitchell's The Boho Dance to the tribute album, A Tribute to Joni Mitchell, released on April 25, 2007.

Previous/frequent collaborator, Michel Gondry, wanted her to appear in his next film, The Science of Sleep, but she declined. But Björk did star in the animated film, Anna and the Moods, the story/screenplay written by friend/frequent collaborator, Sjón. The film won the Edda Award for Best Short Film. It's one adorable movie!

Not long after Anna and the Moods, Björk released her newest album, Volta, in May 2007.

Now, I'll admit that this isn't my favorite album of hers, but I will commend it for how it is vastly different in theme in really doesn't have much of a theme. It's very disjointed in nature. Sure, it focuses more on African-influenced beats, horn sections, and has elements of industrial music, but unlike her past albums, there really isn't any cohesive theme that gels the album as a whole. Yet, despite that lack of focus, surprisingly (or not so surprisingly?), the album would end up being her highest charting album ever, making it to the #9 spot on the Billboard charts, and it would be #1 on the Electronic Album Charts on Billboard for nine weeks straight. On top of that, it was acclaimed by critics and continues to be praised despite mixed reviews from fans. In large part, the attention of this album was from the early news that Timbaland contributed three tracks to her album. Such an unlikely pairing? Not too surprising, considering that Björk has frequently collaborated with other hip-hop artists and producers in the past. Supposedly, seven Timbaland/Björk tracks were made, but only three made the cut for the album. The other four will more than likely never be released. She also produced this album alongside Mark Bell, Danja, and Damian Taylor, put together her own brass section of female Icelandic musicians who played on three tracks on the album, comprising of Sylvía Hlynsdóttir, Ása Berglind Hjálmarsdóttir, Dröfn Helgadóttir, Valdís Þorkelsdóttir, Karen J. Sturlaugsson, Björk Níelsdóttir, Sigrún Jónsdóttir, Harpa Jóhannsdóttir, Vilborg Jónsdóttir, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, Erla Axelsdóttir, Særún Pálmadóttir, Lilja Valdimarsdóttir and Brynja Guðmundsdóttir, American drummers Brian Chippendale and Chris Corsano, Malian kora player, Toumani Diabaté, Congolese ensemble Konono Nº1, Chinese pipa player, Min Xiaofen, Sjón, and Estonian producer Michael Pärt.
To promote Volta before its release, I remember how Björk released this "joke track" called Work in Progress as part of her viral marketing campaign.

And I remember how the album was accidentally made available on the UK iTunes for a total of six hours, two weeks before its official release date. This led to the album being leaked the following day.

If there's only one general "theme" of this album, was that Björk wanted the album to be "full-bodied and really up," "more pop," and as stated by her manager Derek Birkett, "the most commercial thing she's ever done." And she also felt that from doing 2-3 projects that were quite serious (I'm assuming she meant Vespertine, Medúlla, and Drawing Restraint 9), she wanted to do a more fun album. And she certainly achieved that goal with Volta that's definitely one of her most fun albums for sure! 

The first mention of the first single off Volta was on on March 10, 2007, and was later confirmed as the official first single on The Guardian on March 11, 2007. There are so many versions/remixes of this track, all which are amazing, but here's the original single and video:

After the major commercial success of this single, the next one would be Innocence. What made this particular single unique was how Björk hosted a fan contest where that fan would make a homemade music video, and whoever the winner would be, he or she would collaborate with Björk personally to flesh out the music video idea. Now, this was really interesting and exciting! The deadline was tight, which caused many fans to be a tad bit outraged with the whole idea, but...the ones who did submit and caught Björk's attention, wow, the creativity of these music video ideas are pretty impressive. 

Ten videos were nominated in all, chosen by Björk herself. 

The winner of the competition ultimately would be:

Fred & Annabelle

 I voted for this one at that time - it really deserved the win! 

Three more singles would be released for Volta:

Declare Indepdence


(This one is the 2D version. The original version was in 3D, premiered on Record Store Day, with 3D glasses included!)

The Dull Flame of Desire

(As much as I adore Björk and Anthony as a duet, this video is the worst Björk video ever)

Even Björk admitted that Volta was just...OKAY. But, let me tell you, the live experience of Volta is far different from the album itself. Even Björk herself thought that Volta live was the true core and heart of the album, and to celebrate this, she went on a gargantuan 18-month Volta tour. 

She performed at many festivals and returning to Latin America after not having performed there in 9 years, and she also performed in Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 12 years! I was very lucky to have seen her performed at two venues for this tour, one show at Radio City Music Hall and another at Madison Square Garden. What I really loved about this tour was that she naturally performed all the songs from Volta, but she also performed many songs from Debut, Post, Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medúlla. To me it was a nice balance of a Greatest Hits tour along with her newest tracks, and they all blended in so well together as one gorgeous, energetic concert experience. Throughout this tour, Björk created some controversy, one for example was when she chanted "Tibet! Tibet!" at the end of the song "Declare Independence" while performing at Shanghai. 

During this tour, a new track was released, announced via an Ebay auction, titled Náttúra. The song was initially labeled as a single promoting the protection of the Icelandic environment, and it includes backing vocals from Radiohead's Thom Yorke. All proceeds from this single will be donated to the Náttúra Foundation.

Not long after this release, Björk's website announced the release of a limited edition Volta Live box set called Voltaic.

This was released in 5 separate editions, on CD, DVD, Vinyl, both, or all. I have the one that includes four discs: Disc 1, Volta Live at Olympic Studios CD, Disc 2, The Volta Tour Live DVD, where it includes the concert from her night in Paris and the other where it takes place in Reykjavík, Disc 3, The Volta Videos, which also includes all the fan made videos that were nominated for the Innocence contest, and lastly, Disc 4, the remixes. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this box set! A live CD, 2 concerts in one DVD, the music videos, and remixes? You can't really beat that. The major highlight for this box set for me personally was the Reykjavík concert.

That concert is most notable for its location, at the famous Laugardalshöll church, and it's the only time where Björk has ever performed "My Juvenile" (dedicated to her son, Sindri) and "Pneumonia."

My Juvenile


I also adored this version of Mouth's Cradle.

The Paris concert is also a delight. The highlights of this concert for me was:

Vertebrae by Vertebrae

Where Is the Line

Who Is It

These songs were unfortunately cut from Voltaic, but they're posted on YouTube. They were edited out because Björk's voice wasn't at its best (she was sick with a cold), but honestly, how can one tell? She still kills it, and these live versions of these tracks are so wonderful, anyway

Triumph of the Heart

Cover Me

Who Is It?

It's Oh So Quiet

(She rarely sings this one! What a treat!)

Sonnets/Unrealities XI

After the tour was over, in May 2010, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music announced that Björk was to receive the prestigious Polar Music Prize. A month later, Björk collaborated with The Dirty Projectors on their EP, Mount Wittenberg Orca, released to raise money for marine conversation.

To promote the album, The Dirty Projects and Björk performed at Housing Works Bookstore & Café in New York City, performing all the seven tracks from the album. I couldn't make it to this as much as I wanted to, but the YouTube clips captured this event pretty well!

After this project, Björk released the track "The Comet Song" as part of the soundtrack for the movie Moomins and the Comet Chase.

She also collaborated with fellow Icelander and One Little Indian labelmate, Ólöf Arnalds, on the track "Surrender" from Arnalds's new album, Innundir skinni. 

And she performed a duet with Antony on his album with Antony and the Johnsons, Swanlights, on the track, Flétta.

On September 20, 2010, Björk performed her version of "Gloomy Sunday" at the funeral of her dear friend, Lee, that the world knows as Alexander McQueen, who sadly committed suicide.

And she also did a stunning tribute video, called "To Lee, With Love," which was originally a Volta B-side called "Trance." When I first saw this, it watered my eyes, and to this day, it still does.

To end the Volta era was both sweet sorrow, in this case, but in another case, it was also a time for Björk to return to Iceland and perform on Átta Raddir alongside her friend/collaborator Jónas Sen, who was also the creator of this show. I've shared the Medúlla tracks that were performed. Here are the other gorgeous tracks that were performed on this programme. 

Hjá Lygnri Móðu


(See the little girl in the pink and white dress standing next to Björk, and who yawns mid-way? That's her daughter!)

Cover Me


Sun in my Mouth

(This TV performance makes it the first time that she ever performed this track live, on TV, whereas the concert I went to earlier in March was the first time she ever performed this track in concert).

With the end of this tour, it certainly didn't mean that Björk was going to be on another hiatus for long. Björk being Björk, she had so much more to explore musically, to be released...soon...


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