Wild Mercury Sound

Bjork's Volta

John Mulvey

As I write, I've just started listening to Bjork's new album, "Volta", for the third time. The first single, "Earth Intruders", is playing right now, a kind of euphoric marching song driven by three radical beat scientists: freestyling avant drummer Chris Corsano; Congolese troupe Konono No1; and, most notably, Timbaland. It's pretty dizzying, as you might imagine.

After the domestic intimacies of "Vespertine" and "Medulla", I think Bjork's plan on "Volta" might be to locate some great global pulse, a way of drawing energies and finding affinities from a wide and tasteful range of collaborators. That's the feel anyway. "Volta" is certainly more exuberant and in-your-face than the gorgeous miniatures of her recent work. It's not commercial pop music, exactly, for all Timbaland's glittery array of previous employers. But it's not unapproachably avant-garde, either, for all the fearsome credibility of many of her new accomplices.

If there's an analogue to Timbaland's previous work, "Earth Intruders" and an even punchier, weirder track called "Innocence" recall the alien tribal electro sound he created for Missy Elliott circa "Work It". "Innocence" is quite, quite extraordinary; wild acid clicks and squelches swarming around Bjork as she sings with the sort of triumphal abandon found on "Violently Happy". "Untouchable innocence, it's still here," she declares, "but in different places".

Besides "Violently Happy", "Volta" reminds me of "Debut" in a few other places. A radical updating of "Debut", for sure, but there's a similar sense of open-minded adventure. I guess that's defined pretty much all of Bjork's career, but the vigorous desire to embrace a new world of possibilities is comparable here.

There are also the sombre massed horn passages, a recurrent theme on several tracks, which remind me a little of "The Anchor Song": "Wanderlust" is maybe my favourite right now, beginning with a long chorus of ship's horns before Bjork sails in, using seagoing metaphors to explain her artistic questing. That, or maybe she's singing about nice trips on her new boat.

What else? There are a couple of more fragile pieces recalling "Vespertine", notably "Hope", where Timbaland's simulated tabla flutter goes up against the filigree kora playing of Toumani Diabate. Bjork, incidentally, is singing at this point, "What's the lesser of two evils? If a suicide bomber made to look pregnant manages to kill her target or not?"

Then there's an incredibly hard techno track, "Declare Independence", where more ship's horns usher in ferocious beats from Mark Bell that recall his work on the second LFO album. And a couple of tunes featuring Anthony Hegarty, most notably "The Dull Flame Of Desire", which pits both of them up against another austere massed horn accompaniment, and pattering drums from Lightning Bolt's awesome Brian Chippendale.

These Anthony tracks are the only ones that haven't really got to me yet, potentially because I find him a lovely but strangely limited vocalist, and his routine has been relatively inescapable for the past year or so. "Volta" finds Bjork driving some incredibly talented collaborators to surprise themselves, and in that context, Anthony's schtick seems predictable.

But then again, I need to play all of this plenty more. As ever, I'll get back to you. . .


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