Like an explorer’s flag thrust into virgin soil, “Volta” announces itself with the raucous jolt of “Earth Invaders” before unfurling, and revealing its uncommonly fine texture, into Bjork’s most powerful and engaging work for a decade. If “Vespertine” and “Medulla” were muted, insular affairs, this record finds the 41-year-old on code red emotionally, in tune with nature after an eye-opening UN expedition last year to Aceh Province in Indonesia where the tsunami killed 180,000.
On “Volta”, perhaps because of this, she has a real sense of her own mortality, and at the same time she’s rarely sounded more alive. Love – for her children, the Earth, and humanity – courses through the album, the strongest force of all.
As producer, she’s again cherry-picked her dream team and concocted audacious electronic pop and baroque exotica with a cavalcade of obscenely talented musicians. Improvisational drummer Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt and percussionist Chris Corsano plough into crunky Timbaland beats on “Earth Intruders” and “Innocence”, reacquainting Bjork with filthy, tribal rhythms after years of sanitised glitching and huff’n’puffed beatboxing.
To these and to Timbaland’s “Innocence” and “Declare Independence”, a mischievous Mark Bell-helmed rave-up, she adds layers of gonzo electronics from Konono No1, the Congolese collective who fashion their instruments from scrap. On softer tracks like “Hope” and “I See Who You Are” Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and Chinese pipa expert Min Xiao-Fen perform. Timbaland’s sound is as distinctive as it is ubiquitous, which, unless she felt she needed a hit, makes him an odd choice for Bjork (there are no hits on “Volta”. He left the tracks with Bjork for a year while he produced Furtado and Timberlake. She graffitied all over them.
Her own “Dull Flame Of Desire” is particularly moving. Over warm waves of brass, she and Antony Hegarty from Antony And The Johnsons serenade each other, their voices soaring and twirling together like courting swallows. On “Wanderlust” she sings, “I feel at home whenever the unknown surrounds me”. With “Volta”, full-blooded and alien, Bjork is in her element.