Top 50 Björk Songs (Part 2)
10. “Isobel” from Post
Watch almost any Björk music video and you’ll be inspired by the creative genius that the Icelandic singer possesses. Whether visually or melodically, she has the ability to pull ideas out of thin air and turn them into magic, both in the fantastical and the prodigal senses. “Isobel” is fiction, pure childlike delight epitomised with its nostalgic lyrics and “na na na” refrain. It’s proof that music doesn’t need to take itself too seriously to be timeless, wonderful and cinematic. A flute trill precedes the string section that glides into the chorus like a magic carpet taking flight in a Disney movie – it’s slightly cheesy, but entirely picturesque. Whether by watching her unforgettable videos or listening to her beautiful melodies, Björk can transport even the most staunchly serious listener to a place of wonder and whimsy, and leave them feeling giddy.
“My name Isobel, married to myself.”
9. “Quicksand” from Vulnicura
More than any other Björk album before it, Vulnicura felt like a living, breathing organism, probably due to the sequential story that it told. “Quicksand” is chronologically the story’s conclusion, but it feels more like a coda; a moment of exhalation after the emotionally tumultuous journey before it. Its frantic percussion is as if SOPHIE produced Homogenic’s “Pluto”, but the elements around it keep it at bay. With the string arrangement swelling but never peaking and Björk’s singing measured and calm, the heartbeat of the track – that scattered drum beat – is contained as an underlying tension in a lithe and elegant body. However, as the song nears its finish, it becomes apparent there will be no denouement. The violins are cut off mid-bow and the living creature that is Vulnicura ends its life cycle by switching off like a machine.
“When I’m broken I am whole, and when I’m whole I’m broken.”
8. “Pagan Poetry” from Vespertine
I once read someone describe the music box line that opens “Pagan Poetry” as sounding like a riff that plays in a CSI-type drama during a moment of suspense. To them, this ruined the effect of the motif, but to me, it makes perfect sense to have this song soundtrack a spy thriller, even a generic franchise one. The entire song is over-dramatic, from the aforementioned music box patterns, to the murky whisperings in the background of chorus, to the imminent-doom-evoking bass synth. Even its video was totally over the top, in the best, most Björk-like way. It’s a fantastic exercise in maximalism and mood creation, and ends with one of the most striking moments of her discography. Björk manages to sound at the same time desperate, unsure, vulnerable and deluded during her repeated whisperings of “I love him” in the track’s outro, and it’s the perfect end to a very memorable single.
“Swirling black lilies totally ripe.”
7. “Bachelorette” from Homogenic
With its sinister cello melody, forte piano chords and tango groove, “Bachelorette” is immediately arresting. Björk emerges as if from a volcano or a chasm in the earth, spitting fire and blood and venom. Listen to this song on full volume and let it grab you by the shoulders, twirl you, dip you, and throw you into a brick wall. It is a monumental track, but for all the ballroom grandiosity, there is an equal amount of little touches that speak volumes about Björk’s production talents. From the subtle shift to industrial percussion during the pre-chorus to the accordion in the outro, this song is full of carefully-placed embellishments amongst large-scale events. The artist transcends her physical form to become a fountain of blood and then a broken branch, and her powerful, tortured wails towards the end of the song paint a picture of her at her most vulnerable, evoking the image of a chained dragon.
“I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl.”
6. “Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right)” from Medúlla
Medúlla is my least favourite Björk album, which isn’t that bold a claim considering I love them all, but it’s still noteworthy that from it comes what I consider the singer’s most unbridled moment of joy. Björk wrote the song coming from a deep place of strength, and it shows. Pure, extroverted jubilation is a considerably rare emotion in her catalogue, so to hear this gem sandwiched within Medúlla’s a-cappella doom and gloom was immediately cathartic and spiritual. It’s an uplifting feeling to hear that the people you love are happy, and the same applies for your favourite singers. It doesn’t hurt that the chorus melody is near-unparalleled in its glory, and that the album’s beat-boxing gimmick is utilised here to its greatest potential. “Who Is It” is the musical equivalent of two fists raised in the air in triumph, and wrapping those same two arms around the person you love.
“Who is it that never lets you down?”
5. “Unravel” from Homogenic
A huge part of why I love Björk is her unique vocal enunciation, and there is no better display of this than on “Unravel”. Few other artists could pull off the cracking of her voice as she sings “our love, our love”, her imitating gasping for breath singing “while you are away”, her rolling of r’s and of course her Icelandic/British hybrid accent peeking through. Björk is a vocal acrobat and virtuoso and to hear her one-of-a-kind voice harmonize over itself during the climax of the song becomes more jaw-dropping every replay. There is a hidden, slow-burning magnificence to “Unravel”, which sounds somewhat unassuming upon first listen (it wouldn’t have made my top 25 a few months ago), but grows on you like a vine. With a basic structure, minimal lyrics and a steady vocal melody, the song doesn’t reach to do too much, but Björk has the ability to pull beauty out of simplest of ideas, like thread from a never-ending spool.
“The devil collects it with a grin, our love in a ball of yarn.”
4. “Cocoon” from Vespertine
When you write a song about fucking that gives you actual ASMR tingles, you know you couldn’t have done a better job. The percussion on “Cocoon” is so delicate, so faint, that it recalls insects treading across water. It also deliberately brings to mind fingertips gently tapping on and tracing the body’s most sensitive areas. It’s so calming and intimate that it’s easy to get distracted and forget that Björk is singing about waking up after sex with her lover still inside her, and describing ejaculation as “a train of pearls”. Björk infuses more poetry into sex than most, but by not shying away from detailing her pleasure, she avoids the pretentiousness of sounding overly metaphorical. We can all relate to the feeling of connectedness during and after making love to someone we really care about, as well as the starry-eyed disbelief of being lucky enough to have such an experience. Björk taps into these fundamental feelings in a perfect and endearing way, creating a gem of a song in the process.
“He slides inside, half awake, half asleep, we faint back into sleephood.”
3. “Hyperballad” from Post
Often called the best song of her career, and with good reason, “Hyperballad” is a remarkable achievement in storytelling, imagery and composition. Its lyrics have such impact and attention to detail that they would work as a prose piece, and its instrumental combines orchestral, house and IDM genres in a way that still sounds ground-breaking today. Combining words and music thus creates an objective masterpiece, one that never loses its emotional resonance regardless of how many times it is replayed. It’s a track with a fantastic level of intricacy, the centrepiece of Björk’s most successful album during arguably her greatest era. The song is a huge accomplishment, which makes it surprising to revisit that it’s about the simple feeling of not wanting to lose yourself while being in a relationship. “Hyperballad” has provided me a lot of solace in times of self-doubt, and is without a doubt the track I turn to first when I need to inspire in myself some moments of introspection.
“I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against those rocks, and when it lands will my eyes be closed or open?”
2. “Stonemilker” from Vulnicura
“Stonemilker” documents the downfall of Björk’s 13-year relationship with Matthew Barney, featuring her rawest most unfiltered thoughts sprawled out on a blank canvas, and then arranged in detached, matter-of-fact phrasings. In gorgeous ways that are impossible to replicate, the vocal melody hesitantly meanders around immediately striking lines like “What is it that I have, that makes me feel your pain?”, “I wish to synchronize our feelings”, and the quoted lyric below (my favourite). Cascading strings underscore the emotions of realisation and hope that the song is based upon, and everything feels positive, even if just for a minute. But later, as Björk tiredly and helplessly sings to her life partner that she wishes to “find our mutual coordinates”, it is a tragic moment for her and the listener both. We know that her relationship only goes downhill from this point, and the song appropriately concludes instrumentally, with Björk having spilled all that her heart can bear. Seemingly defeated, a long decrescendo signifies her descent into beautiful tragedy.
“Moments of clarity are so rare, I better document this.”
1. “5 Years” from Homogenic
“5 Years” was my favourite from the start. It’s the song that transformed me from a casual fan into a Björk devotee, and I haven’t looked back since. It was a single moment too that hooked me, on a track full of ones I adore. From the fade-in of the gritty, industrial beat over the blocky intro synth, to Björk’s passionate “I dare you” starting the second verse, to the string cadence almost 3 minutes in, and finally the abrupt, foot-on-the-brakes end of the track… every few seconds of “5 Years” possesses a moment I hold dear. However, my favourite part comes 2 minutes and 23 seconds in, when Björk growls at her lover with such ferocity and authority that I was immediately shook. I still am. For me, “I’m so bored with cowards”, growled like a lioness, is one of the most powerful moments in any piece of music I’ve ever heard. Angry Björk is something to behold, especially over an instrumental that sounds like World War 3 set in Space Invaders. Listening to your favourite artists show vulnerability is important, but there’s nothing better than listening to an iconic woman telling a weak man to fuck off.
“I’m so bored with cowards.”