Essential Listening: Björk – Homogenic


Artist: Björk
Album: Homogenic

Label: Oli Records & Elektra Entertainment & Polydor
Release Date: September 20th, 1997

At this point it’s essentially a universally accepted truth that Björk is a musical genius and is able to create music that breaks down both genre boundaries and the preconceptions of listeners. Her musical style is difficult to classify simply due to the wide range of influences that she draws upon and her complete disregard for genre boundaries. For anyone who isn’t familiar with her work I feel sorry for you and for anyone who is familiar yet isn’t a fan, you simply haven’t listened to the right amount of her music to form the correct opinion.

Of her many critically acclaimed albums one has always stood out to me on a personal level, an album that in my opinion features the largest number of perfect or near perfect tracks. I of course speak of the 1997 release Homogenic, arguably the most critically acclaimed of Björk’s releases and in this case rightfully so. Often albums receive widespread critical praise for being catchy and accessible but in this case it’s a matter of this coupled with groundbreaking artistic innovation. The album spans a huge range of varied genres including everything from pop, indie, experimental electronic, ambient, alternative, and more.

The crazy thing is that the more you listen to this album the more you’ll pick up on other bands and artists from a wide range of varied musical styles that have very clearly drawn inspiration from it. Personally, I pick up on the album’s influences in artists ranging from Sigur Ros, Fever Ray, Of Monsters and Men and numerous other acts. I may be grasping at straws, but I think Disney may have even ‘borrowed’ some inspiration for a few of their songs from the album. To back this up, world renowned artists including Missy Elliott, Elton John, and Thom Yorke have all credited the album with helping inspire them to branch out more from their comfort zone.

Legacy aside let’s talk music. The album starts with Hunter, which is one hell of an opening track and sets the tone for the rest of the release. Björk’s ethereal vocals echo through a tension laden electronic arrangement that seems as if its building towards something as subtle haunting sung elements bob in and out beneath the primary vocals. Sure enough, dramatic string elements come in as this tension builds, adding a rich texture and tone to the songs overall sound. We’re then presented with the track’s chorus which while simple and repetitive manages to remain highly impactful and memorable. Next, we’re hit with what makes the album so great, out of nowhere the rhythm completely shifts as Björk hits us with an off kilter wailed segment before presenting us with the chorus again. The rest of the track is a varied mix if these arrangements along with some unexpected deviations, but from start to finish it keeps you fully engaged.

Joga is the track that I would say has inspired the most artists employing a similar alt/pop style thanks to its stunning tones, catchy melodies, and impressive vocal performance. The song has a real drama to it and showcases Björk’s showmanship, as well as allowing her to demonstrate the power that she can exert vocally. It’s one of the less experimental on the album as far as individual elements within the track go but is completely different to anything else on the release so remains experimental in that sense. Musically the song is somewhat minimalistic and stripped back, which works massively in its favour. It allows the elements there to really speak for themselves and makes the vocals that much more dramatic and impactful. For me the song’s lyrics are the easiest to sing along to on the album and I often find myself playing over in my head:

State of emergency

How beautiful to be

State of emergency

Is where I want to be

Emotional landscapes

They puzzle me

Then the riddle gets solved

And you push me up to this

Jumping ahead now to track 4 Bachelorette (Family Tree Version), things take a very different approach. From the onset of the track there are multiple overlapping elements on full display. From electronic elements to piano, shakers and more, the song hooks you from the onset. That’s before Björk’s ethereal vocals explode out of the mix, dominating the track and adding a sense of mystery and drama. In between verses we’re treated to powerful string elements that complement the power of the vocals on display. The song has some of the best atmosphere on the album and to call it captivating would be an understatement. For me though it’s the lyrics on the track that make it so powerful and are easily my favourite on the album:

I’m a fountain of blood

In the shape of a girl

You’re the bird on the brim

Hypnotized by the Whirl

Drink me, make me feel real

Wet your beak in the stream

Game we’re playing is life

Love is a two way dream

Leave me now, return tonight

Tide will show you the way

If you forget my name

You will go astray

Like a killer whale

Trapped in a bay

I’m a path of cinders

Burning under your feet

You’re the one who walks me

I’m your one way street

I’m a whisper in water

Secret for you to hear

You are the one who grows distant

When I beckon you near

Leave me now, return tonight

The tide will show you the way

If you forget my name

You will go astray

Like a killer whale

Trapped in a bay

I’m a tree that grows hearts

One for each that you take

You’re the intruder hand

I’m the branch that you break

Lastly, I’m going to look at track 9, Pluto which completely breaks the mold again with its high energy borderline drum and bass/dance influence. Musically the song wouldn’t feel out of place at all on a Prodigy album and employs their unique brand of punchy aggression and abrasiveness. When you pair this with the rawest and most experimental vocals on the album you get a winning combo. Björk wails and shrieks over electronic elements that get ever faster and more aggressive until it reaches a crescendo near the end of the track. I can easily picture this song blasting at obscene volumes at a warehouse rave paired with seizure causing strobe lights, glow sticks and mind-altering substances. I understand why All Is Love was chosen to close the album, as it mellows the listener out and leaves them on a pleasant note, but I could easily have had this song end the release with a powerful kick to the gut.

I chose to focus on these particular songs as I feel that they showcase the diversity of the album best and they all happen to be my favourite tracks on the release. Just note that the songs I didn’t look at are still well worth your time to listen to, regardless of me not writing about them. The entire release from start to finish is worth your time and honestly so are many of her other albums.In summary Homogenic is an album that will undoubtably stand the test of time due to its impressive range of sound and its groundbreaking nature. I would easily classify this as one of the greatest albums ever recorded in any style of music and it’s a release that I come back to frequently without ever tiring of it or losing appreciation. So, if you aren’t familiar with it now is your chance to re-acquaint yourself with it and if you’ve never heard it you are in for a real treat.

Listen to the album:

Apple Music

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