Photo by Phil PoynterFILE UNDER: POP, WEIRD AND FAMOUS
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Bjrk's music, whether her sunny work with the Sugarcubes, her dancehall debut, or the mournful Vespertine, has always been driven by her fascination with the human voice and—at least in her case—its unlimited capacity for wild sounds. On Medulla, Bjrk boldly features an orchestra of voices and only voices—no traditional instrumentation at all—including Rahzel of the Roots, Mike Patton of Faith No More, Kelis, and chorale efforts from Icelandic and U.K. choirs. While it's not necessarily her best album, it's certainly her most arresting. She's never been more intimate with her audience—"Show Me Forgiveness," a brief, rhythmless a capella sounds like it was sung in a cathedral yet somehow feels like a confession in a dark bedroom. On "Where Is the Line," the Gregorian choirs set up one of the spookiest walls of sound in pop, while the three songs sung in a Nordic language lend an ancient dignity to the record. Unfortunately, beatboxers Rahzel, Dokaka and Shlomo tend to come on a little strong; it's a noble experiment, but they end up sounding like drum machines anyway, distracting and superfluous against Bjrk's crisp leads. In fact, the real experiment on Medulla isn't so much the sounds but rather Bjrk's loyalty to her artistic vision. After all, it's not a dance record, it's not an electronic record, and it's not strictly avant-garde—but it's not anywhere near a conventional pop vocal album, either. It's the kind of record Bjrk could make only because she's weird and famous and already commands a market—but somebody has to do it, and nobody deserves the opportunity more than her.