Saturday, July 6, 2013


Björk Guðmundsdóttir drew divergent musical forms together for the deliciously danceable reflections of this shimmering solo statement.  When she was eleven she drew national attention in Iceland with her rendition of Tina Charles' 'I Live to Love' which led to her first album 'Bjork' on the Fálkinn label in 1977.   She opted not to record a second album for sixteen years, instead starting an all-girl punk group Spit and Snot and playing in a slew of different groups from jazz fusion group Exodus to Tappi Tíkarrass to the gothic KUKL to the art collective Smekkleysa that would eventually yield alternative auteurs the Sugarcubes and her first international success.  Björk  says:   "I’m still definely obsessed with the spontaneity of punk. I’m a sucker for energy. Just put all the energy in the world into my ears." 

She began making demos on her own while she was still in the Sugarcubes, bringing them to producer Derek Birkett of One Little Indian Records; and, when the Sugarcubes folded, she moved to London to pursue her musical mission:    "It took me ages to reason it to myself. I find it very hard to be selfish. I just decided, I’m going to move to London, I’m going to be really selfish, I’m going to get all the instruments I want, all the noises and lyrics I like, and make all the music I can, because everybody’s got to express their vision, and no two people are the same. I could happily go and die if I could say, 'I did my best, I made my sacrifice.' It’s as basic as that. If I hadn’t done this, I would sit in my rocking chair at 85 with my grandchildren on my lap, and say, 'Sorry, I didn’t have the guts.' I’ve become selfish now, believe me. I’ll go out to the flower shop and buy flowers just for myself. It’s outrageous, isn’t it?...It’s a cosmopolitan city. That’s the reason I’m here. If I want a dulcimer player, I can get one. If there’s a certain photographer I want to work with, more than likely he’s going to come through London. I can appreciate London from above, all the rooftops, maybe because I’m a kid and I like Peter Pan. I’m starting to appreciate aimlessness and eccentricity. I’ve realized that Englishness is about people who have to behave politely all day, and the clothes have to be all proper, but that doesn’t mean they’re not mad. You have to focus on it, but once you find it and focus on that energy, then you can stay sane. Compared to the English, Icelanders are like people from Sicily or somewhere. 'I’m upset!!!' Like a volcano, they break things, and two hours later, they’re happy. There’s a volcanic eruption in Iceland once a year, on average...What happens in Iceland is that you get the blizzard in your face, you have to fight the weather all the time, and you stay very alert, you never fall asleep. Your head is always working. People who go there think the Icelanders are really stressed out. They’re not, but their energy is on 10. We’ve got this awkward thing, which is 24-hour darkness in the winter, and 24-hour daylight in the summer. There is snow from October or November until mid-March. It means that in the winter you’re just inside and you write all the books you were going to write and get everything done on your own, and then in the summer you go absolutely mad. Like bears after hibernating."

'Debut' was recorded over several months with trip hop producer Nellee Hooper who introduced Björk  to synthesizer programmer Marius de Vries and more electronic instrumentation.  The sound of the album is primarily dance and electronica with classical expressions, world music flavorings, and jazz excursions throughout.  The album credits include:  Björk on vocals, arrangements, keyboards, and production; Garry Hughes on keyboards, Hammond organ, and programming; Oliver Lake on music arrangements and brass; Corky Hale on harp; Gary Barnacle and Mike Mower on brass; Nellee Hooper on production, engineering, percussion, and drums; Luís Jardim on bass, percussion, and drums; Talvin Singh on direction and tabla; Bruce Smith on percussion and drums; Jon Mallison on guitar; Jhelisa Anderson on backing vocals; and Martin Virgo, Paul Waller, and Marius de Vries on keyboards and programming; with a slew of engineers.    

Björk considers 'Debut' "songs I had written in the evening when my kid was asleep, almost like a domestic housewife album."    It charted at sixty-five in Japan, sixty-one in the US, forty in Canada, twenty-four in Germany, sixteen in France, ten in Australia, nine in Norway, three in the UK, and two in Sweden.  The album was called album of the year by NME and would eventually be certified platinum in the US and double platinum in the UK.  The next year she won Best International Female and Best International Newcomer at the BRIT awards.

'Human Behaviour' was a top forty hit in the UK and went to number two on US alternative singles charts.  Björk reveals:   "After the Sugarcubes, I guess I had a mixture of liberation and fear. It had been obvious for a while in the band that I had different tastes than the rest. That's fair enough - there's no such thing as correct taste. I wrote the melody for 'Human Behaviour' as a kid. A lot of the melodies on 'Debut' I wrote as a teenager and put aside because I was in punk bands and they weren't punk. The lyric is almost like a child's point of view and the video that I did with Michel Gondry was based on childhood memories."

'Big Time Sensuality' went to number seventeen in the UK and was a number one dance hit in the US. 

"It takes courage to enjoy it." 

Björk says:  "I’ve got a lot of courage, but I’ve also got a lot of fear. You should allow yourself to be scared. It’s one of the prime emotions. You might almost enjoy it, funny as it sounds, and find that you can get over it and deal with it. If you ignore these things, you miss so much. But when you want to enjoy something, especially when it’s something you’ve just been introduced to, you’ve got to have a lot of courage to do it. I don’t think I’m more courageous than most people. I’m an even mixture of all those prime emotions...‘Big Time Sensuality’ was actually about when I first met Nellee Hooper. I think it’s quite rare, when you’re obsessed with your job, as I am, when you meet someone who’s your other half job-wise and enables you to do what you completely want... so it’s not a sexual romance."

'Violently Happy' seized number thirty-one in France, thirteen in the UK, and number four on the US dance chart.

'Venus as a Boy' hit number twenty-nine in the UK.

'Play Dead' was recorded for the film 'The Young Americans' after 'Debut' was completed and was later added as a bonus track.  It went to number sixteen in Ireland and number twelve in the UK.

full album:

00:00 - 04:11 Human Behaviour
04:11 - 09:03 Crying
09:03 - 13:46 Venus As A Boy
13:46 - 17:07 There's More To Life Than This
17:07 - 21:41 Like Someone In Love
21:41 - 25:37 Big Time Sensuality
25:37 - 31:03 One Day
31:03 - 34:57 Aeroplane
34:57 - 39:51 Come To Me
39:51 - 44:50 Violently Happy
44:50 - 48:31 The Anchor Song
48:31 Play Dead 

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