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Vespertine

Okay, I’m going to get to the Vespertine review in a minute here, but first, you NEED to go to YouTube and watch this RIGHT NOW. Yes, it’s a music video (for “Stonemilker”), but think of it like a music video done in Google Street View. Click and drag and watch what happens. It’s BLOWING MY MIND. I actually said “woah” out loud. Now THIS is the kind of quality music video I expect from Björk. Also worth watching are the music video for “Lionsong” and the “Family” moving album cover, both of which can be found on her official YouTube page. AND there might be a bootlegged copy of of the “Black Lake” video from the MoMA exhibit that just ended floating around somewhere. *cough*cough* (No, I mean really bootlegged, like DVD-you-bought-in-a-back-alley-with-shadowy-figures-occasionally-walking-in-front-of-the-camera bootlegged.) (UPDATE: The official “BLack Lake” video from MoMA is now up!) Anyway, it’s GREAT to see she’s made a return to form with these videos. I’m really, really glad.

NOW, let’s get into Vespertine. Funny how I’m choosing to talk about it in June seeing as how it’s a very wintery-themed album (though it was released at the end of August). It’s got light and airy sounds, making use of such instruments as a harp, celesta, various strings, and a music box made out of glass. There’s even the sound of snow crunching in one track.

Thematically, the album is all about love and sex – and more love and more sex. That’s really it! At the time, it was her most intimate album – well, it’s also ABOUT intimacy. But it was incredibly personal endeavor. We’ll get into that during this review.

I’ve mentioned multiple times that the opening track “Hidden Place” is one of my all-time favorite Björk songs. It is one of my favorite opening tracks to any album. There’s something about the way that soft repetitive electric sound at the beginning pulses and washes over you. The choir that comes in at around 32 seconds brings it to another level. And when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it takes you to an even higher euphoric state of mind at about 50 seconds in when the beats, strings, vocals, and background melody all swell up together.

Of the theme of the track, Björk said:

‘Hidden Place’ is sort of about how two people can create a paradise just by uniting. You’ve got an emotional location that’s mutual. And it’s unbreakable. And obviously it’s make-believe. So, you could argue that it doesn’t exist because it’s invisible, but of course it does.

It certainly feels like a paradise, although one of a sexual nature. It’s pure, unbridled bliss. My favorite lyrics are “I’m so close to tears/And so close to/Simply calling you up” as well as “Now I have been slightly shy/And I can smell a pinch of hope/To almost have allowed/Once fingers to stroke.” I don’t know why, but these particular lines just get to me. Normally, I would say they get me in the gut, but, er…that’s not quite where they get me.

If the first track wasn’t blunt enough for you, well here, have “Cocoon.” (And, oh yeah, the video’s totally NSFW.)

Heavy-handed on the euphemism AND the literalism, the breathy vocals in “Cocoon” make it very clear that this is a post-coital track. The little glitchy beats are wonderful and a little eerie. The minimal sound really works for this song. I don’t know if it would have succeeded if it was as overwhelming as “Hidden Place.” This track is meant to be introspective in its bliss.

I feel like “It’s Not Up To You” wasn’t necessarily supposed to be about love or sex, but it’s difficult to read it any other way, at least for me (“Just lean into the crack”? I mean, come on). To me, it’s about that unknowing that exists when you’re not sure what kind of a relationship you’re in with a person. There seems to be chemistry, but there’s also this difficult balancing act in your head: Do you pretend like it’s nothing and risk missing an opportunity, or do you take a chance and risk blowing it all? You’re stuck in this limbo of not being able to read their frustratingly ambiguous signals. (Boy, have I been there.) I feel like this song really captures that pensive burning curiosity that runs itself back and forth across your brain and makes you into a nervous wreck. “Six glasses of water/Seven phone calls.”

So that makes “Undo” a pretty good follow up! It’s very meditative and calming right from the get-go: “It’s not meant to be a strife/It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill.” You just have to let your nerves go and go with the flow. This is not so much about sex and love as the others. Although I said it’s a good follow-up to “It’s Not Up To You” it could really apply to any situation in life that you’re overthinking/stressing out over. “Undo if you’re bleeding/Undo if you’re sweating/Undo if you’re crying/Undo.”

“Pagan Poetry” is probably the biggest standout track on this album. It’s the most passionate, the most emotional, and the most theatrical. And so is the music video, which, by the way, is even more NSFW and, besides that, definitely NOT for the squeamish when it comes to needles and piercings.

So…this video was banned by MTV, and not just for Björk being topless and having strings of pearls being sewn into her body. If you’re wondering what those weird blobby, blurry images are…well, it’s highly likely you’re seeing a Björk sex tape (watch again – do the way those blobs are moving look familiar now?). It’s not just all about nudity and needles though. Setting the music video aside, this song is about making yourself vulnerable (and, in a way, that’s exactly what the music video is capturing) as you head into a new relationship, even as you’re scared to do so because of the consequences that could result (as they may have in the past). This song is swarming with desperation and anxiety. It’s so important that the music drops out when Björk chants “I love him” over and over again.

There isn’t really anything to say about “Frosti,” the glass music box interlude, except that it’s BEAUTIFUL. If it didn’t cut off (because it fades into the next track), I could listen to it over and over again.

That next track would be “Aurora,” the most wintery track on this album (so it makes sense that it’s paired with “Frosti”). Themes of nature and love kind of blur together here. “A mountain shade/Suggests your shape.” She fills her mouth with snow to remind herself of her lover. It’s the best track about intimacy without being as heavy-handed about it. There’s something transcendental about it.

“An Echo, A Stain” brings a chill down my spine every time. It’s a sinister, dark song, based on a one-act play called Crave, which I know nothing about, except for the themes that I’ve gathered from its Wikipedia entry which include “rape, incest, pedophilia, anorexia, drug addiction, mental instability, murder, and suicide.” The musical themes of the album work perfectly with this song, being creepy and quiet. It’s meant to make you feel uneasy, and in that aspect, especially knowing what it’s based off of, it works.

The next song has lyrics taken straight from the e e cummings poem “I Will Wade Out” which, for those not familiar (I mean, I wasn’t) is purely about masturbation. It’s pretty obvious from the lyrics regardless. Also, the music works great as a euphemism here. It starts out with gentle, exploratory tones before slowly building up to a crescendo and follows with a blooming release before coming back down and ending with fuzzy, fading, echoed vocals. It may seem heavy-handed (no pun intended), but it’s also pretty clever!

“Heirloom” is another song about love, but a different kind of love – a familial kind. Its pensiveness reminds me of “It’s Not Up To You.” It’s a very introspective track and the most surreal, lyrically. It feels like maybe this was the best way Björk could describe the way her family forms her foundation and holds her up. A singer’s voice is their most important asset, and when they lose it, it can be easy for them to question their worth. And so one has only to look at who supports them and know that everything is going to be okay.

The song “Harm of Will” was co-written by Harmony Korine and is supposedly about Will Oldham, though I’m going to be honest here: I have no idea what that means. I mean, okay, the name of the track is basically made up of both of their names. But beyond that, I don’t have any clue what Will Oldham has to do with anything, much less who he is (someone’s going to be mad at me for that). But completely ignoring that, it’s another dark song with a sinister ending. There are two characters in this song: a man and a woman. Björk seems to go back and forth assuming the identities of these characters. It’s hard to tell which one at times. It’s a hauntingly beautiful and sad track. And, dammit, I wish I understood what it was about.

We end with a fantastic track, the best way to end this album: with a track called “Unison.” Okay, again, this is going to sound corny (for different reasons), but I really relate to the way she describes love here. “Born stubborn, me/Will always be/Before you count one, two, three/I will have grown my own private branch/Of this tree” and “I thrive best/Hermit style/With a beard and a pipe /And a parrot on each side/But now I can’t do this without you” especially. This is another track about vulnerability, but where “Pagan Poetry” was filled with distress and fear, this track is eager, enthusiastic, and a little bit flustered. The swelling orchestra and chorus just make my heart soar. I feel so happy and hopeful when I hear it. I don’t want it to end.

I don’t think I’ve said it before, but Vespertine is my favorite Björk album, and one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s one I would have to have if I was on a desert island or on a rocket ship headed to Mars. It’s definitely one I need to get on vinyl. It has my favorite sounds and it just means so much to me. I never get tired of listening to it.

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Debut

I recently bought Björk: Archives, which is billed as a “mid-career retrospective.” I didn’t think much of it, until the specificity of the “mid-career retrospective” was pointed out to me. Björk is nearly fifty years old and has been making music since she was a child. She studied classical piano and flute when she was six years old and recorded her first album when she was eleven. That means she’s been making music for about forty years, give or take. Does this mean she’s planning on making music when she’s pushing ninety? I’m sure she is! At least, I hope so!

So today, I’m going back to the start: I’m going to talk about her first solo album (not the one she made when she was 11) Debut. While this album is significant in its own right, it’s probably my least favorite album of hers, next to Biophilia. Björk herself has even said it’s not her best. She’s produced far better albums, which isn’t to say that Debut is a bad album, but it is very dated. You can tell by the sound that it’s an album of the 90’s. It also doesn’t really have a cohesive or unified theme, except that there are a lot of love songs. It’s an album that’s the result of someone taking their first steps into a solo career. Björk had a very quixotic, child-like pixie persona and image at the time, another thing that’s apparent in this album. There’s a lot of playful innocence in the lyrics. Some of the songs had been written years before she recorded it. “Human Behaviour” was written when she was a teenager.

And hey! There’s our first track! I’ve talked briefly about “Human Behaviour” before (here and here). Though Debut is not her best, this song definitely is. Not only is it one of the best, it was the best song to pick as the leading single and first track of this album. It bursts into your ears and rattles around in your brain. It’s weird and uncanny and primal and unrestrained. And it’s unmistakably Björk.

I never really cared much for the next track “Crying.” In fact, I usually skip it. It’s just not very interesting. It’s kind of corny and it’s probably the most dated song on this dated album. Eh, I just don’t really have much to say about it! Let’s move on.

“Venus As A Boy” is a classic. It’s a Bollywood-influenced track that makes a lasting impression with lyrics like “His wicked sense of humour/Suggests exciting sex.” There’s more to the music video than Björk fondling and frying an egg – the imagery was inspired by her favorite book at the time, Story of the Eye. However, the egg was actually supposed to be boiled, not fried. (Read the NSFW Wikipedia plot summary of the book and you’ll see why.) Björk is an absolute angel in “Venus As A Boy,” both vocally and visually, even if she’s a bit of a mischievous one. It works so well.

“There’s More To Life Than This” is still a dated track, but it’s kind of fun! The credits for this song say it was recorded in the bathroom of the Milk Bar, a club in London, where Björk was living at the time. That would explain the sound of stall doors slamming about halfway through the song. I like the idea of sneaking out of a party to go have some real fun. It’s also pretty danceable. It is a dance track, after all!

“Like Someone In Love” is actually a cover of an older song from 1944. The minimalistic sound is nice – and appropriate – here. It’s just Björk and a harp, with incidental background noises and some very light and faint strings toward the end. It makes it sound like she’s walking down the street late at night, pondering and singing about love. It’s one of the best love songs on this album.

I really like “Big Time Sensuality” – the Fluke Minimix version, that is. The one on Debut is okay, but I heard the other one first and got really attached to its big, overwhelming sound. This is just one of those songs where the sound matches the lyrics extraordinarily well. It’s got this feeling of nervous excitement, like the moment right before you plunge down the top of a roller coaster, or the feeling immediately after a first date that’s gone really well. Fun fact: Did you know that this song is about friendship and enjoying life and not sex?

I’m fairly certain that “One Day” is about her son, Sindri. It seems pretty obvious, even if the baby sounds at the beginning don’t quite make sense – Sindri was about 7 when this album was released. Still, it’s a sweet song from a mother to a child. It’s kind of inspiring and motivational. I have a random version of this song called “One Day (Endorphin Mix 52.5 Bpm)” that’s slowed down and actually pretty nice. It makes the song sound a lot more introspective and thoughtful. I think I even like it better.

“Aeroplane” is another song I don’t care too much for. It’s got a weird, quirky sound, but it’s no “Human Behaviour.” It’s a little boring, actually. I like the jungle sounds at the beginning and end, and even the melancholic xylophone at the end, but that’s really about it.

“Come To Me” is hypnotic and seductive. I like this one, but it’s got that dated sound that keeps it from becoming a classic. It wouldn’t make my favorites list, but it’s not one I’d skip right away if it came on and I was in the mood for it. It’s a slow burn of a song that’s satisfying. Again, not her best, but not her worst either, when you consider it in the frame of her earliest work.

“Violently Happy” is one of the other great love songs on this album. Where “Like Someone In Love” was quiet and contemplative, this track is intense and unrestrained. “Violently happy/’Cause I love you” is a pretty accurate way of describing the euphoric feelings of a new relationship. It even gets to a point where it’s dangerous at times – “I’m driving my car/Too fast/With ecstatic music on…” “I’m daring people/To jump off roofs with me.” The beats go well with the lyrics. Even if, again, the sound itself is dated, it’s another great dance track.

The album closes with “The Anchor Song,” which is one of my favorites. The minimal sound fits it so well. Just Björk and a couple of saxophones. It’s got a sort of homesick sound to it – or rather the sound of someone whose homesickness has been relieved by their return to that home. It’s quietly content, like snuggling into your own bed after a long and exhausting trip abroad. I like this one a lot. It’s a good feeling to be reminded of home, wherever you make it.

Debut is not even close to the first album I’d recommend. In fact, it’s probably one of the last I’d recommend. But for a Björk enthusiast, it’s essential listening. It’s fascinating to hear where she started and how far she’s come. It seems like her voice hasn’t really changed that much since this album was released 22 years ago. If anything, it’s gotten richer and she’s gained more control over it. Listening to Debut is like peeking into a time capsule. It’s astounding to hear how much she’s evolved.

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Top Songs – Björk

Now that Björk’s Vulnicura has been out for a good while, I thought it would be a good time to look back and pick my favorite songs from her past eight studio albums. Just the eight! I’m not counting soundtracks, compilations, singles, B-sides, remixes, or any of that. I’m not even counting that album she put out when she was, like, 12. Just the main 8 from Debut on. And here we go!

“Human Behaviour” from Debut

Gosh, this feels like kind of an easy one. But it’s one of my all-time favorites, and so there it is! This song has a primal, primitive sound that suits it well, and I just really dig that. It’s off-kilter and odd, with a touch of madness, and it’s got one of the greatest music videos of all time. Plus, one time, Beavis and Butthead watched this video and it was awesome.

“Army of Me” from Post

Wow, it was tough to pick just one favorite from Post because there are so many songs on this album that are great! But this one takes the cake for me. It’s my personal theme song. It’s industrial and confident and assertive and a little bit angry too. It’s a self-declaration of independence. And it’s got another spectacular music video!

“Alarm Call” from Homogenic

So uplifting! I kind of put this one on the flip-side of “Army of Me” as my personal theme song. It’s all about the power that music can have over a person, and how it can be transformative. And it’s got one of my favorite lyrics – one I try to make my personal motto – “Today has never happened, and it doesn’t frighten me.”

“Hidden Place” from Vespertine

This was another tricky song pick, because this is definitely my favorite Björk album, and all of the tracks are wonderful. But I love the ethereal, transcendental sound of this particular one. It’s so intimate and heady. It wraps itself around you. It kind of embodies this messy amalgam of love and lust. (I also adore this video.)

“Triumph of a Heart” from Medúlla

Another happy song! It just makes me feel so good. It’s Björk doing hip hop – and she makes it work in her own way! Like every song on this album, the beats and melodies and every other sound in between is made using the human voice as an instrument. Which makes for lots of fun noises! The video is also fantastic and features Björk married to a cat.

“Innocence” from Volta

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This song isn’t really so much about “virginal” innocence, but I think it places around with that idea. It’s really more about the innocence you have in life, in general, before experiencing something new, and how terrifying and exciting that can be, and how it can shape you. Also, the beats are PHENOMENAL on this track. (The music video was a fan-made dud, so I’m posting the single art instead.)

“Cosmogony” from Biophilia

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I love this song for its fascination with the universe and our place in it and how it all came about. It’s introspective, but big and outward-facing. It covers 4 different creation myths – counting the Big Bang Theory as one of them. In the fantasy world where I get to go to the International Space Station, this is one of the songs that plays one of the mornings I wake up.

“Atom Dance” from Vulnicura

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Heard in order, this is the first song of hope on an album that is about devastation. It reminds me of a carefully composed waltz, or of snow melting into spring. It’s so prudent at first, then it transforms and flows into something grand and beautiful. It’s healing, like this entire album is meant to be.

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Vulnicura

A new Björk album dropped very suddenly, and along with it, so did everything I was doing. Because when Björk releases any new music, anywhere, that’s kind of the appropriate reaction.

Announced 2 weeks ago, Vulnicura was due in March, but was unfortunately leaked just about the day after said announcement. One week later, Björk officially released the album. I bought it right away, of course.

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Holy smokes, where do I start? This is unlike anything she has done before. I mean, that’s true with any album, especially since Björk likes to experiment with new sounds and styles with each album. But I mean, this is really, really unlike anything she’s done before. The beats are reminiscent of Homogenic, but the strings make me think of Vespertine, while the vocals and mixing remind me a bit of Volta. But it’s still purely in a class of its own.

This is also the most personal album Björk has ever written. Literally. As in, it’s a document of her breakup with her long time partner Matthew Barney. It is like reading a diary. It’s voyeuristic, heartbreaking, and, at times, uncomfortable. She definitely made this album for herself first – to get all the emotion and pain out, for self-healing. Vulnicura means “wound cure” in Latin (basically – Björk has fudged with words to make them into album titles before).

This album is so heavy. As I was listening to it, I could feel my heart sinking. You can just hear the sadness and pain in her voice. I found myself asking “Man, is she gonna be alright?” It’s just that real and honest. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother or to go through a divorce, but I can’t help but wonder if this is what it feels like for a woman who is a mother to go through a divorce. As I said, this album is pretty much an emotional documentation of her breakup with Matthew Barney. Every time she sings about “you” or “he” she’s referring to him. In the album booklet, she even documents when each song takes place. The first three songs are the months before the breakup. The next three are the months after. The final three seem to follow the moment when she finally lifts herself up and begins to heal and look back on it all.

While all of this baring herself to her listeners seems very spontaneous, every bit of this album is incredibly deliberate. I like the writing here a lot better than on Biophilia. The sound is also a lot more consistent. The tracks are pretty long, so this album is not a quick listen. You don’t just play random tracks. It’s meant to be heard as a whole, like a meal served all at once, not in courses. Still, my favorite tracks by far are “Lionsong,” “History of Touches,” and “Atom Dance.”

“Black Lake” is beautiful and tragic. This is where I felt my heart sinking the most. This is where it felt the heaviest. And then you get to “Family” and it just hits you. This is so, so, so personal. She is singing about Matthew and their daughter – it’s literally her family. It builds up to such a frantic desperation and then it just…lets go. Another thing I really enjoy in the album is the pacing. Like I said, it’s just so deliberate and well-orchestrated. And again, just to go back to the writing, some of my favorite lyrics include:

Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this – “Stonemilker”

How will I sing us/Out of this sorrow – “Family”

We are each others’ hemispheres – “Atom Dance”

When I’m broken I am whole – “Quicksand”

It’s really hard to say much more about this album. It’s just pure emotion and raw honesty, and it’s hard to just…talk about that. What I can do is recommend these articles. The first is an interview from Pitchfork that gets into the making of and inspiration behind the album, as well as her continued frustrations with how the music journalism industry treats her as a female artist. It gets wonderfully feminist at the end. There’s also this New York Time article which covers her history and journey up until this point, including a little more insight into the making of the album. Finally, this NPR article really gets into the nitty gritty critical analysis of this album. Read it if you feel like you didn’t get enough from my amateurish attempt at reviewing it! This was definitely a tough one. It’s a must-have for any Björk fan, naturally, or even for someone going through or fresh out of a breakup. It’s incredibly sad but also therapeutic, from start to finish. Hence, “wound cure.”

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Top 5 – Björk

I watched Dancer in the Dark for the first time this weekend. I know, I know: I’m an über Björk fan and yet somehow I managed to go this long without seeing it?! Anyway, it was completely devastating and made me cry my eyes out.

But this is a music blog! And since the movie put me in the mood for my favorite Icelandic singer, I thought I’d do a little post about her. Specifically about my top 5 favorite Björk music videos! In no particular order, of course.

1) “Human Behaviour”

Spectacular. Just spectacular. Björk (and director Michel Gondry) set the bar so high with her very first music video. It’s very whimsical and childlike and sinister all at the same time. Like a five year-old’s fever dream or a Nick Jr show gone wrong. Björk fits very well into this world, and the sets and backgrounds are such a joy to observe. I wish I could climb inside this video and have a look around, though I think that might be a bit dangerous.

2) “Army of Me”

Another Michel Gondry joint venture and another thrill to watch. It’s got the same sort of design going on, just slightly more evolved. It’s got this very constructed feel to it, like you can tell it’s a set and it’s all make-believe, but it’s pulled off so well. The only way I can think of to describe it is that it feels punk-Seussian. It’s another set I might like to go poking around in, though I might be more creeped out in this one.

3) “It’s Oh So Quiet”

So much fun! This may be one of the best music video interpretations of a song ever! The way everyone and everything comes to life is just magical. The world becomes this open playground to interact with. The part where the mailbox comes to life and dances may just be my favorite part. It really is like a musical in every way, which is exactly where this song seems to belong. (Yes, I am aware it is a cover – of another cover, no less.)

4) “Hidden Place”

Compared to the others so far, this one is incredibly simple. Yet it’s so sensual and hypnotic, much like the song that goes with it. I really like how stripped down it is. There’s almost a feeling of unease associated with it, being so close to Björk’s face and watching this weird goo oozing in and out of her orifices. It’s almost too intimate. But that is what Vespertine was all about, really. Being intimate and sensual and physical.

5) “Bachelorette”

I know – another Michel Gondry production! But his most of his videos are my favorites. Of the worlds he created so far on this list, this one feels the most real, and perhaps that’s what makes it the most emotionally impactful. The play within a play within a play just gets to me somehow. It’s this tragic cycle that’s never going to end. And when it does end, it doesn’t end well. The dramatic music goes so well with the equally dramatic visuals.

So you may have noticed I left off a lot of Björk’s later work. I don’t know, I just feel like they don’t have as much oomph as her earlier work. Not that she doesn’t put as much effort into them, just that she’s doing something different with them. Maybe I’ll just have to rewatch all the post-Vespertine videos. Till then, these are my top 5 Björk music videos!

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Music That Made Me

This week, I’m taking a leaf out of the book of one of my favorite podcasts, Wham Bam Pow. They have this occasional segment called “Movies That Made Me,” where they have a guest come on and talk about a movie that influenced them or otherwise had some affect on them at some point in their life. I don’t know that I could do that with any movies or even TV shows, but I can definitely do that with music.

The following is a list of the top 5 albums that influenced or otherwise had some effect on me at some point in my life. They aren’t necessarily my top 5 favorite albums (though some of them are). Rather than present them in the order of least to most influential (or the other way around), I’m presenting them in the order that I discovered them (not the order they were released). This is the music that made me.

1) Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill

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This album came out when I was 9, though I don’t think I started listening to it until I was around 10 or 11. It was the first album I remember listening to over and over again that wasn’t a Disney soundtrack, or otherwise an album meant for kids. It’s funny looking back on it because this album is all about being an adult. Re-listening to it in my 20’s, I feel such a connection to a lot of its themes. I don’t know what drew me to it as a kid. It might have been her unique voice. I certainly hadn’t heard anything like it before. It was harsh but powerful. It was so the opposite of my Disney soundtracks. The production on this album is flawless–I think somehow I recognized that even as a kid. It was (and still is) such a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

2) Nelly Furtado, Whoa, Nelly!

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I was really beginning to discover my musical independence in high school and, like most kids in my generation, found a lot of my music at that time on MTV. It’s where I first heard Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird,” and it’s had a special place in my heart ever since. I related to a lot of that album when I was in high school. It was something about the persistent theme of a wandering soul, of someone who was still figuring out who they were and where they belonged. It helped that she, too, had a unique and intriguing voice. I loved the way it never seemed content to stay still or predictable, making it consistent with the themes of the album. It was very different from what was dominant in pop music at the time, which, according to this Slant magazine review, was “‘pop princesses’ and rap-metal bands.” (That is totally what pop music was at that time. They’re not even slightly exaggerating.)

3) Gorillaz, Gorillaz

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The first time I saw and heard “Clint Eastwood,” it blew my mind. It was unlike ANYTHING I’d seen on MTV at that time. I didn’t even know something like that could exist. I’d never even contemplated it. It wasn’t even the pinnacle of what they would accomplish, but my brain and ears were hooked. When I got the album, I was delighted at how this music was (again) so different from anything else I’d heard. It really set the bar for what music could be for me at that time. I also loved the shroud of secrecy that the band kept around them. It was like believing in Santa Claus all over again. I wanted to know so much more about them, but the not knowing was a thrill too. I still remember that sense of wonder when I re-watch Clint Eastwood, even though I now know the physical faces behind the cartoon facades.

4) Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030

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Well, what can I say about this album that I haven’t said before? Deltron 3030 changed everything I thought I knew about rap, and even what I thought I knew about music. It really raised the bar for me.There was no going back after hearing the track “3030.” It’s no wonder, considering there was a lot of creative exchanging of musical ideas going on between Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Damon Albarn at that time, and you can totally hear it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it had the biggest influence on me since I’d first heard/seen “Clint Eastwood.” It’s just a surprise how long it took me to discover it! (It was around the end of 2010, I think.)

5) iamamiwhoami, kin

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So I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love iamamiwhoami. But I don’t think I’ve given a definite reason. kin is that reason. I’d already heard of them by the time they’d started the slow-release of this project/album. And I’d been intrigued before, but bounty didn’t have the same sense of continuity that kin did. kin was not as busy as bounty. It seemed to have a clearer sense of direction, even if it wasn’t clear to the viewer/listener what that was. It was better than following a TV drama from week-to-week (kin was released biweekly). I eagerly awaited every single release up to the very end, when I snatched up the CD/DVD release and watched it in its entirety. It was only after a few watches that it finally became clear to me what it was about. I won’t say because I think it means something different to everyone, and everyone is meant to discover what that is on their own. But it’s so deeply personal to me. I feel it in my bones every time.

Honorable mentions:

Björk, Vespertine – This album had a pretty good influence on me when I was in college (a lot of Björk’s work did) but it falls just shy of the top 5 most influential list. Sorry, B!

Madonna, Ray of Light – I never listened to a lot of Madonna growing up, but I remember getting interested in her around this time. This was when she was going through her Kabbalah thing. It made for a magical album.

Moby, Play – I played the hell out of this album in high school. Moby’s music was such a curiosity to me, mainly because it seemed to defy genre. It took my mind to totally new places.

Sheryl Crow, The Globe Sessions – Another album I played the hell out of in high school. It was so soulful, and I’d never really experienced anything like that. It reminded me of my experiences with Alanis Morissette, but softer.

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Anyone who knows me well knows that Björk is one of my favorite artists. Yet if you asked me what the first Björk album I bought was, I couldn’t be 100% sure. I think it must have been Post.

Which I think is a fantastic introductory album to Björk. (I’d actually first heard various songs of hers via a mix CD from a friend.) It’s got the broadest range of sounds and relatable themes, and, while she was still messily experimenting, this was the last album that came before her really experimental stages.

Let’s start with the opener:

“Army of Me” is one of my top (definitely top 5) Björk songs. The industrial sound is so fitting, and it’s such a departure from the pagan-pixie sounds of Debut, even if she hadn’t quite left her manic pixie phase. It’s so empowering, even though lyrically it seems to put you down (“You’re alright…There’s nothing wrong.”). It’s really just telling you to get over yourself and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. The video (which I also love) is a bit of an analogy of that idea, particularly the part where she goes to the gorilla dentist. She was so focused on her own self-perceived suffering, she didn’t realize the potential inside of her until someone else tried to steal and exploit it. It’s visually fantastic, thanks in part to the direction by the incredible Michel Gondry.

The transition into “Hyper-Ballad” is flawless, which is amazing since it’s a much quieter song. It’s a heavy, somber account of someone who stays in a relationship that holds no meaning for them anymore. It’s about doing and imagining the most horrible things so you don’t have to face the reality that’s even more horrible. According to Björk:

Basically, ‘Hyper-ballad’ is about having this kind of bag going on and three years have passed and you’re not high anymore. You have to make an effort consciously and nature’s not helping you anymore. So you wake up early in the morning and you sneak outside and you do something horrible and destructive, break whatever you can find, watch a horrible film, read a bit of William Burroughs, something really gross and come home and be like, ‘Hi honey, how are you?’

It’s so tragic and heart-wrenching. And Björk sings it with just the right amount of emotion.

“The Modern Things” is a funny little song, and it feels kind of like a bit of a leftover from Debut. Actually, along with “Army of Me,” it was written before Debut. Makes sense for the former, but it’s a surprise on the latter! Anyway, I remember reading somewhere that the song was like a little joke Björk made up. This idea that cars and machines had existed long before dinosaurs and people.(It’s hilarious to me that she would think this was a very funny joke.) I think it also comes from a feeling of frustration with people who dismiss electronic music. She has this fantastic quote about it, though I’m not sure where it comes from. It still gives me chills when I hear it though, because it’s such a good point.

If you ask people to name a Björk song, odds are they’ll name “It’s Oh So Quiet.” It’s probably Björk’s most accessible song for the reason that it’s an actual recognizable genre: big band/jazz. It’s also her most unoriginal (not a bad thing in this case!) considering she didn’t write it. It’s still loads of fun and she still manages to put her own signature style into it. And it’s got another awesome music video:

It just looks like she and everyone else is genuinely having fun, and I love that!

“Enjoy” and “Army of Me” are another hard-soft pairing. The album’s very scatterbrained like that, but it works. The diverse sounds give it such a wide range of emotion. Then we have “Isobel” which is such a great ballad song. It’s got one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “In a tower of steel, nature forges a deal to raise wonder hell like me, like me.” It’s so vivid and allegorical. I’ve always found the video a bore though, which is sad, considering it’s another Michel Gondry piece.

“Possibly Maybe” is, according to Björk, is the first unhappy song she ever wrote. And it feels like it. The song and video are so dark and obsessive, which is appropriate considering it’s about someone she just can’t get over.

She goes back and forth over her emotions. “Possibly maybe…probably, love.” The best part is at the end when she sings “Since we broke up, I’m wearing lipstick again” signalling that she’s finally ready to move on to other people, but then: “I suck my tongue in remembrance of you.” The recurring phone ringing sound is just perfect. It’s making you ask “Do I pick it up and seem desperate? Or do I ignore it and miss out on a potential opportunity?” Everything about this song (and video) is so so so good. (P.S. She’s bathing in milk.)

“I Miss You” is a great track to follow that. I’ve always loved how she’s so sure about what her perfect lover will be like, even though she hasn’t met them yet. And the video was done by John Kricfalusi! Of Ren & Stimpy fame! (Björk is apparently a big fan.) It’s a delightfully bizarre combination. It’s like she gave him free range and he took it and ran with it. And it works! Anyone else probably would have asked him to do it MUCH differently. I can picture Björk saying “Man, this is messed up…I love it!”

“Cover Me” is a quiet but eerie following track. There’s a rare early version that she recorded in a bat-infested cave that I have on her Family Tree collection. Even the album version sounds like it could have been recorded in a cave. Or maybe an abandoned space station, Alien-style.

Last but not least, the album’s closing track “Headphones” is a beautiful ode to music and even sound itself. (“My headphones saved my life” is practically my motto.) And yet sound is minimal on this track. It works wonderfully. Björk uses her voice as an instrument to great effect here. And in a way, the soft yet deep beats serve almost as a precursor to the beat-heavy Homogenic. What a wonderful closer…

If you have NEVER listened to Björk in you life, well, first of all, how dare you. But more importantly, start with Post. It gives you the widest range of her vocal and thematic abilities. Then you’ll be ready to experiment with new sounds right along with her.

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