Björk is an artist who I find challenging in so many ways. In terms of her creativity she has reached some guru-like moments throughout her career, creating compositions that are so far-out, products of an imagination that are as often visionary as they are plain loopy. For all the barriers that Björk pushes and breaks her music can be just as challenging to the listener to take in, let alone enjoy, which is why it’s usually no problem to get an opinion on Björk as there are as many detractors as there are fans. I consider myself neither one nor the other, but both at the same time – that’s the kind of mixed-up reaction Björk inspires in me, and while listening to Voltaic I was quickly reminded that she is an artist whose music I can be enjoying in one moment, then the next moment I will be scrambling for the stop button to put an end to such an irritating, grating noise… arrrgh! But alas, a short time later like a lab rat returning for another shock of electricity, I find myself listening again, and so the process repeats indefinitely.
Voltaic is a live studio album that was recorded in one afternoon at Olympic Studios in London before Björk’s headling show at Glastonbury Festival 2007, part of the Volta tour. The eleven tracks on Voltaic are divided between songs from the album Volta as well as some of her best-known songs from previous albums, all of which have been tweaked to some degree by Björk for this live recording with the aim of capturing how the songs sounded during the tour.
Of the tracks on Voltaic, “Hunter” remains one of Björks most popular creations, though I prefer it in it’s original form in which I recall her voice and the song sounding livelier. In any case, to me this song is more of an exercise in patient just to wait to grin in response to the most inspired lyric that Björk has ever penned; “I thought that I could orgggggg-a-niiiiise freedom, how Scan-diiiiii-naaaavian of me.”
As mentioned in my introduction, Björk is an artist who can inspire some truly bi-polar reactions. “Vertebrae by Vertebrae” is one of the grating, fingernails-down-a-chalkboard moments, a jarring concoction of brass instruments which I really find not only unenjoyable but unlistenable. However, in total contrast, elsewhere the same instruments can be harnessed to create something which I adore, as with the futurebeat “Army Of Me”. “Army Of Me” is how the future should sound, and with a sinister electro pulse accented by strident brass instruments, it is the stuff of pure science fiction.
“Declare Independence” is another example of Björk creating music that seems so ahead of our time, and also sees her sing in an angry, in-yer-face style that I like much more than her softly, long-sustaining warbles and is a song that pumps with steaming hot industrial aggression. Depending on your state of mind and listening scenario, this song could serve as the soundtrack to cerebral meltdown or, on the healthier edge of going mental, may inspire a four-minute freak-out if heard at an underground club – don’t question it, just crank it and march your feet to this cry for revolution.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice