One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to listen to two new albums a week — borne out of an intention to (1) expand my musical horizons; and (2) stop taking obsessive hits off of certain songs I discover and enjoy like they’re crack. Today I decided that my inaugural musician for this quest would be Björk.
Björk is weird. I don’t have to tell you that Björk is weird, because if you know one thing about her, it’s probably that she infamously wore a swan-shaped dress to some award show some number of years ago. Apparently if you wear an animal-shaped dress to an award show, that deserves relentless and unending scrutiny. I’m going to file this away in my memory, because I can definitely see myself wearing an animal-shaped dress at some point in my life. Sometimes this just seems like a decent idea.
Here are some other notes:
(1) She is from Iceland. I waver back and forth on whether or not this is the reason her music sounds, to me, like winter personified.
(2) She once said, according to Wikipedia (oh yes, I am a star reporter), “Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You’d be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavors.”
(3) She is 45, and yet she seems ageless. Her music usually sounds like it is sung by a 12-year-old named Wildflower performing in the living room while draped in a shower curtain, her hippie parents looking on from the corner, bobbing their heads along. It is a credit to her that I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way.
I tend to have an obsessive need to control the music I am hearing to a probably unproductive degree. At parties I often wrest control from the DJ to add a number of songs to the playlist. My Pandora stations are carefully cultivated and regularly pruned. My iTunes selection is always a reflection of my mood, never the other way around. I am therefore gripped with an overwhelming compulsion not to listen to Bjork right now, given that my mood is not that of a bizarre pixie on a dance floor.
The album I have been listening to, “Debut,” debuted in 1993. It is the first in her discography, and there is a painful ’80s dance-pop layover that my poor brain and mouse-finger want desperately to cover over with a nice lo-fi acoustic guitar or banjo. In fact, right now, the song “One Day” is actually making me squirm around in discomfort. One hand just shot up and rubbed my left temple. My reptile brain is not enjoying this.
That said, there are two songs on this album I quite like. The first is “Human Behavior,” which features her ranging all over, but with, I think, more predictability than usual. The lyrics are a charmingly otherworldly assessment of their title subject (“There is definitely, definitely, definitely no logic/To human behavior”) and there’s a sort of very controlled bounciness to the rhythm. I like the contrast of Björk’s wavering little-girl voice with the control of the beat. The echo is nice, too.
The second one I like is “Aeroplane,” which is inextricably linked in my mind to a train ride to Pune in India… one night when I decided to listen to the songs on my iPod in order of song title. I distinctly remember lying on a top sleeper bunk, comfortably hot, sinking into a song with nighttime jungle noises in the background and a theme of being worlds and worlds away. The brass is nice, too.
These two songs are similar, it seems to me, in not smacking of horrendous, manufactured ’80s bits and pieces that mercilessly remind me of this Elton John song. [Not to impugn the Sir. I will go ahead and admit to having a strange nostalgia and appreciation for that song. But we can just chalk that up to a mystery of being 5 years old and attempting to manage the emotions unleashed by that song in my mind (I still remember quite clearly being scandalized by his use of the word “sex”). Still, we can agree that this music has a clear date of manufacture, no?]
I’m getting pretty tangential, so I’ll just say that my favorite parts of “Debut” are the parts that don’t really sound like the rest of “Debut.” The other song that stands out, “It’s Oh So Quiet,” might be a likably animated testament to the thrill of love, but unfortunately it’s inextricably linked in my mind to a Youtube video I once saw of kittens doing silly things.
Still, I’m willing to put in my time. I’ll let the Björk roll over me for a few more days before declaring her first album largely unfit for consumption (post-1993, anyway). Because y’know what? I get the swan dress.