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Music Review: Björk – Volta, I Dare You to Eat It

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Despite its irresistible candy-colored package, Björk’s Volta is not a cellophane wrapped confection suitable for general consumption and immediate enjoyment; as suggested by the variegated pod costume Björk inhabits on the album cover (it’s actually a very cool sticker/seal, so be careful when opening – I accidentally tore one of its disproportionately large blue feet) it is much more like a dormant but promising psychedelic spore. If you’re down for some electronic branch-waving in protest of morally subjective colonial powers, be prepared to (eventually) trip your ass off.           

If upon first opening Volta’s unassuming little red doors you feel, as would anyone conditioned to interpret particular patterns of sound as music, assaulted by the apparent cacophony, I would encourage you to wait. Be patient while the pod’s contents germinate in your auditory complex. Every once in a while, between your secular musings, play a track or two at a volume commensurate with your courage, and one day the phantasmagoric pod creature will reveal itself to you.       

My moment of revelation happened with “Wanderlust,” in which  Björk’s primordial incantations climb over mountainous layers of classical brass, industrial beats, and electronic percussion. My ear’s immediate tendency was to dissect into seemingly incompatible parts what is actually an artfully constructed, amazingly organic soundscape. This is a perfect example of what makes Volta a little inaccessible, but so worth the wait. Appropriately, the song is about leaving the comfort of established paradigms, or rather deconstructing those paradigms in order to follow nature’s law of progress.

Volta’s vivid pod packs all the energy and urgency of Post and Homogenic, as well as the cerebral sensuality of Vespertine. Björk fans will automatically embrace the electro-music box danceability of “Innocense” (beats by Timbaland) and the harmonizing vocal climax of “The Dull Flame of Desire” (duet with Antony Hegarty).   

What Björk fans might not have expected from Volta is what some have perceived as embarrassingly political lyrical content. “Earth Intruders,” the album’s intro track, is a playful, yet determined march, announcing the arrival of an army that will fight some amorphous source of turmoil and carnage. It seems to me much more about humanitarianism than politics, a sort of universal parallel to “Army of Me.” “Declare Independence,” a spastic rally cry for independence and justice, does specifically target colonists as a source of oppression, but who really considers that political any more, even if taken literally?   

The song that has stirred the most controversy is “Hope,” which poses several moral questions regarding a suicide bomber who may or may not be pregnant, and may or may not hit her target. The tranquil indigenous percussion and melodic arrangement of Eastern strings should tip off the listener that the underlying question is a philosophical one, pointing to the fact that most of the world’s problems are steeped in moral subjectivity. The song’s conclusion steers completely away from politics, hailing love as the highest universal moral law.       

Open wide for the Volta pod: It may not be candy, and it may not be FDA approved, but like other alarmingly colorful organisms that you might encounter in nature, it’s too intriguing to pass up, and you should probably just eat it.

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