Medulla – Björk


2004 – One Little Indian

Avant-Garde/ Experimental

medulla

The fifth album from Icelandic singer, songwriter, and serial weirdo Björk is a bizarre melodic journey through how one is able to use the human voice. The whole record is almost entirely a capella using only a complex layering of vocal tracks to construct its intricate and sometimes rather beautiful movements and themes, and starting off with the touchingly simple Pleasure Is All Mine one can instantly here the artistic premises at work with this release. Mixing such elements as beat boxing, Tibetan throat-singing, and Björk’s own strange vocal stylings, the tracks on this album provide a constant source of amusement, bemusement, and wonder.

All up, however, once the thrill of musical complexity and the novelty of a capella arrangements wears off Medulla does tend to bore a bit and become incredibly inaccessible. I mean, tracks like Where Is The Line and Who Is It are all well and good when they begin in the unique way they construct their musical passages, but this point of interest dissipates after a short while as Björk reuses the same techniques again and again. Not to mention tracks like Oll Birtan and Submarine just annoy instantly with their overt refusal to partake in the conventions of modern popular music. Now, I’m not saying that experimenting is bad, in fact I quite like the odd bit of experimental music, but in the case of Medulla I think a line has to be drawn between being experimental and just going right off the deep end.

What I’m talking about is the fact that Björk just seems to be pushing too many boundaries too far all at the same time. An a capella record is a brilliant idea, and so is a record that plays around with various vocals techniques and styles, and so is one that draws upon ancient melodic structures rather than the Western traditions of pop music for inspiration, but when all of these things are going on all at once it makes for a record that is rather difficult to listen to. There’s just really not enough room in the album to fight this many battles, and consequently much of the record dissolves into a tedious display of ‘look-how-clever-I-am’ song composition rather than an actually pleasant musical experience.

Not all of the tracks necessarily suffer from this overbearing problem (some of the cuts even dare to dabble their feet in the waters of ‘beat driven pop’), but enough of them do that it makes the whole ‘album’ experience rather trying. I mean, I do like to be challenged by the music that I listen to, but in this case I didn’t feel so much challenged as excluded from the whole process, which, I think, is where the real issue with Medulla lies.

It’s just nowhere near as accessible or as much fun as Björk’s earlier work (or even some of her later releases), and it’s hard to make me sit down and go through the mental work it takes to ‘get’ the record if I’m not going to have any fun at the end of it all. It’s all well and good to go crazy pushing against the norms, but you have to at least make an album with some reward to justify the amount of work a listener is going to put into the project.

I suppose, however, there are probably those rare listeners out there who instantly ‘got’ Medulla and will judge me as some kind of cultural philistine for my assessment of the record, but I have a feeling that those snobs might be filled with more pretension than sense. So, I will go right ahead and say that this record is academically rather interesting, but not really groundbreaking, and musically is really rather boring, and as such I can’t really recommend it unless you just want something to fall asleep and feel stupid to.

 

RATING: D

And here is the clip for Who Is It, one of the least irritating experiments on Medulla.

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