The Alternative Elite

Disaffection can be a very powerful thing. It can drive some to unbearable depression, motivating a search for a magic narcotic to cure them of their suffering. And some channel it, taking them to dizzying heights of creativity and artistic liberation. Bjork, the Icelandic Queen of Alternative/Electronic/Trip-Hop/Pop/Whatever, personifies the latter approach. Following the messy end of her troubled relationship with fellow Alternative icon Tricky, Bjork penned some of the most emotionally racking and devastating songs of her career, which became the ten brilliant cuts that make up her landmark 1997 effort, Homogenic. The album combines laptop-generated thuds and clicks with epic orchestral arrangements and Bjork’s own otherworldly vocal talents. Homogenic is a singular listening experience with the capability of instantly snatching the listener into the vast, overpowering expanses of Bjork’s own warped universe. The ablum begins with the thump and jitter of a synthesizer, while a heavily distorted melody chimes in time. Then, following the entrance of a throbbing bass, Bjork’s echoing voice emerges, sounding somehow close and distant simultaneously. The lyrics are simple, but direct and powerful throughout the album. You could smell it so you left me on my own to complete the mission now i’m leaving it all behind i’m going hunting i’m the hunter Although her words are biting, Bjork has a sly sense of humor, which she demonstrates on “Hunter.” She sings, “I thought I could organize freedom… how Scandinavian of me!” Bjork’s vocal performance is unbelievable , as she sings with a passion that few can match. In fact, she sounds on the verge of breaking down into tears on every track. The essence of the album’s brilliance is this juxtaposition of Bjork’s emotional, organic vocals and song writing coupled with the cold, artificial pulsations of trip-hop beats and weeping strings. I have tried many times to capture the brilliance of Homogenic on the many mixes I have made, but none of these attempts have been successful. In fact, I presented one of my friends a mix featuring “Unravel”, a personal favorite of mine. I asked her what she thought of the song, she gave me a furrowed eyebrow and stated, “It kinda sounds like something from Star Trek.” From this statement, I will present the reader with two conclusions I have made: 1) The album must be listened to as a whole. When the songs are taken out of context, they do not come close to accumulating the emotional intensity and impact that they impart within the framework of the album. 2) Nothing says “I want to get to know you better, here’s a mix I made for you (insert big toothy smiley emoticon here)” better than a song about loss, despair, alienation and depression. Way to be, Dave. The production on this record that makes it “kinda sound like something from Star Trek” does, however, serve an important purpose, as I have already touched on. By manipulating this type of production, Bjork gives her music an ethereal quality that make the listener feel the same isolation and inconsequentiality that trampled over Bjork’s personal life at the time this record was made. The most infamous selection from the album is the ear-shattering “Pluto.” The song, with an unsettling title referencing the coldest and most distant planet in the solar system, features Bjork intensely screaming and wailing for longer than the average listener can stand. This is the climax of Homogenic’s incomparable emotional intensity. Finally, after more than half an hour of staring at a great cage of snarling dogs, Bjork unleashes the pack, and for thirty seconds the beasts come out to howl at a dark bitter moon. The album’s jarring cover art is a tip-off to the distraught content within. Everything about Bjork’s appearance in the picture is uncomfortable and rigid, from the massive hair buns that swell above her head like mushrooms to the venomous, reptilian eyes that crouch into her eyesockets, ready to pounce. Her nails are very long and very artificial, like switchblades, and she wears a metallic gold neckbrace, reminiscent of those worn by African women, symbolizing the extreme displeasure and pain she is confined within. She is, symbolically, stretched too thin. The dainty, vibrant red lipstick she wears is the cherry on top, and completes the picture of a woman who feels like she has become something alien, something that somewhat resembles normality from a distance, but upon closer inspection, suggests a much more disturbing reality. Bjork has become, and rightly so, the poster-child of restless innovation and experimentation, never afraid to bend and twist the boundaries of what we call popular music. She has since gone on to record many well-received albums, one of which is composed totally of her own voice, using none of her trademark electronic stylings, and obtained an immensely warm critical reception for her stirring performance in the film Dancer In The Dark. Yet, Homogenic continues to be a landmark for Bjork, her own Blood On The Tracks. She has never been so naked, so close, and so cold, and I doubt that she, nor anyone else for that matter, will tap this part of the human psyche in our lifetime again with such honesty and brutality.