How to Listen to Björk, According to Björk (2023)

Culture

The Icelandic artist breaks down her powerful new album, Fossora.

By Spencer Kornhaber
How to Listen to Björk, According to Björk (1)

One common way of viewing Björk’s career is as a long descent into the bizarre. After the eclectic earworms of her first three solo albums (Debut in 1993, Post in 1995, and Homogenic in 1997), she moved through surprising phases, ranging from soft murmuring (2001’s Vespertine) to splattering noise (2017’s Utopia). These days, her work can seem less like pop than, as The Guardian’s Chal Ravens recently put it, “surreal opera.”

Björk doesn’t think in these terms. When I met with the 56-year-old musician in Iceland for The Atlantic’s recent profile of her, she expressed mystification at people who say her ’90s stuff was more fun. “Maybe they remember themselves in some club doing ecstasy and there were three remixes in a row,” she said. “Overall, the BPM, or the amount of chill, or the amount of experimental, or the amount of pop sugar, or the amount of self-reflective, serious moments—I think it’s actually sort of been the same throughout my albums.”

That interpretation makes some sense once you’ve tuned your ears to Björk’s frequency and absorbed her intentions. Fossora, her tenth solo album (out today), certainly takes some getting used to. That’s not just because it features clarinets, brass, and strings juxtaposed with the stormy electronic dance style known as gabber. Björk’s defining instrument, her voice, remains a challenge—and a wonder. She wails and exhales in meters and melodies of unpredictable shape. But, and this is crucial, they do have a shape.

Created over five years in Iceland, Fossora reveals itself, with repeated listens, as warm, satisfying, and even addictive: an invitation to stomp around and sing along. Part singer-songwriter memoir, part philosophical treatise, and part danceable adventure, it ranks among her most rewarding works. In Iceland, we discussed most of the album’s songs, which are dissected below.

(Video) How to Listen to Bjork Properly

1. “Atopos”

A high-drama protest song that eventually explodes into a rave, the opening track is designed to, as Björk illustrates in the music video, get people pumping their fists. Written during Donald Trump’s presidency, Björk’s lyrics preach about the psychology of moderation and compromise. Extremism—“pursuing the light too hard,” she sings—doesn’t just prevent unity. It is also, the lyrics say, “a form of hiding”: a defense mechanism, an avoidance of intimacy.

On a yet-deeper level, the song distills what makes Björk’s music unique. Philosophers use the term atopos to refer to something “unclassifiable, of a ceaselessly unforeseen originality,” as Roland Barthes wrote in the book that informed this song. Trying to honor the shared ineffability of life—the way that we all have our individuality in common—is a means of creating connection. It also leads to utterly distinct art. “Each song is a coordinate, an emotional coordinate,” Björk told me. “Several things are on that coordinate. Some of it is personal, some of it is universal, some of it is me, some of it is my friends. It’s all of it, in one.”

2. “Ovule”

The strangest and best song on Fossora is built around a trickily timed beat that braids brass, vocal wisps, and a trap-ish low end. The musical wobbling reflects Björk’s lyrics about love being a balancing act—one that life has taught her how to perform. After a stark passage about “deadly, demonic divorces,” the song’s push and pull seems to resolve into a feeling of rebirth: the possibility of an ovule.

“In a way, it’s a sibling to ‘Atopos,’” Björk said. “‘Ovule’ is the feminine, open, loving, forgiving, unconditional, zero, no baggage, sensual, erotic. And ‘Atopos’ is … the masculine, the baggage, the problematic. I have to give it to both songs, though: The second half of them, there is a transformation in the middle, and they come out the other end.”

3. “Mycelia”

An interlude woven of Björk’s chopped-up vocals, “Mycelia” is named for the rootlike networks created by mushrooms. It also evokes feminine work of crafting and connecting. “I used to do a lot of knitting and sewing and crocheting, especially as a kid,” she said. “I think a lot of my editing on my laptop comes from that. It almost becomes a meditation.”

(Video) Watch this before you listen to Fossora by Björk

4. “Sorrowful Soil”

Of the two songs on the album addressing the death of Björk’s mother in 2018, the hymnlike “Sorrowful Soil” is the sadder one, capturing the moment when Björk and her brother began to realize there wasn’t much time left for their ailing parent. The lyrics, written in a stream of consciousness, present what she called a “biological obituary” of her mom. “In a woman’s lifetime / she gets 400 eggs / But only two or three nests,” goes one line. Björk explained, “You look at a girl, they’re one day old, and they have 400 eggs inside of them. It’s really exciting. And two of them became children.”

The intricate way that Björk’s voice twines with Iceland’s famous Hamrahlíð Choir, which Björk sang in when she was a child, calls to mind a flickering bulb. Perhaps that is because the choir’s longtime conductor, Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir, “absolutely insists that every single person in the room, emotionally, goes to the light,” Björk said. “So after a choir session, everyone is euphoric.”

5. “Ancestress”

With gong, bells, and strings, “Ancestress” ritualistically honors Björk’s mother’s life—though it has its wrenching moments, as well as hints of conflict between mother and daughter. “The balance between [‘Sorrowful Soil’ and ‘Ancestress’], one sad one and one celebration, it’s not a coincidence,” she said. “I'm nudging the volume and the weight on every color.”

At one point, the instruments fade away, and Björk sketches the moment of death: “The machine of her breathed all night / While she rested / Revealed her resilience / And then it didn’t.” The next verse is warm, almost relaxed, reflecting an epiphany she had: Living people have relationships ruled by ego, “but when they pass away, they become a spirit, and there’s no conflict. It’s element air, as opposed to element flesh.”

6. “Fagurt Er í Fjörðum”

A haunting keyboard line accompanies Björk’s recitation of words by Látra-Björg, an 18th-century fisherwoman who, according to myth, cast spells with her poems. The first verse celebrates the beauty of Iceland’s fjords; the second one, translated, says that when the winter winds blow, “I know no worse place / In this worldly place: / Man and creature then die.”

Björk noted that although foreigners often associate nature with childhood and naivete, “in Iceland, it’s actually the other way around. Nature is really dangerous; you could very easily die if you go in the wrong shoes, walk to the volcano, walk a glacier. It’s more the adult, mature people who take it on.”

(Video) How Björk & Post Infused Heart into Electronic Music

7. “Victimhood”

A recent fascination with Carl Jung’s psychological theories led Björk to write this creepy epic about self-pity. She arranged “long bass notes” to feel “like slime in every footstep, going kilometers down,” fitting the sense of misery she sings about. The calming choral coda represents the moment when you “find the solution, and you own your own victimhood,” she said. “If you call it its right name, it just”—she made a poof noise—“evaporates.”

Björk said she’d been fascinated by the way that the right-wing, conspiracy-minded movements rising in the West have been fueled by a feeling of persecution. Yet when I asked whether the politically charged idea of “victimhood culture” was on her mind when she was writing this song, she said no. But “we’ve all got a part of us that is a victim, and we have to own it,” she said.

8. “Allow”

Flutes dart about in this lovely leftover from the sessions for Björk’s previous album, Utopia, and Björk felt that the song fit on Fossora because of its percussive weight. With multiple scores by 12 flutists edited together, the Afrobeats-influenced “Allow” features “basically 60 flutes doing rhythmical patterns,” she said. She thought up the hopeful lyrics while hiking in the Caribbean. “It’s almost like yoga, sort of meditational—just me talking to myself to be in the moment,” she said.

9. “Fungal City”

The music of the children’s-book author Thorbjørn Egner—a Norwegian analogue to Dr. Seuss, Björk said—partly inspired the merry woodwinds on tracks such as “Fungal City.” But Björk wanted her sextet of clarinetists to do an “adult” and “erotic” take on that style befitting the intimacy of her lyrics: “His body calligraphs the space above my bed / Horizontal signatures on my skin.”

Such lyrics may make listeners curious about who she is dating, but Björk is keeping that info quiet. When she became a celebrity in the ’90s, “there were moments where I went with the flow and overshared. And I learned very quickly, nobody’s happy. The press, they don’t get what they want. You don’t get what you want. The person you love, they’re fucked up.” But now, “I’ve learned where I can be very, very vulnerable in sharing, like a lot of these lyrics already are,” she said. “But I choose the sentences well.”

“Fungal City” features the experimental soul singer Serpentwithfeet, who is an example of Björk’s influence on a rising class of queer artists. For LGBTQ listeners, she speculated, “there’s not a lot of mirrors you can see yourself in, especially in some societies. But then, when you see a matriarchal thing”—such as Björk’s music—“it’s probably reassuring.”

(Video) Bjork - All is Full of Love HD

10. “Trölla-Gabba”

This giddy techno interlude, assisted by the Indonesian beatmaker Kasimyn, offers the listener “a little break, or sorbet,” Björk said.

11. “Freefall”

The dreamy strings of “Freefall,” recorded at an Icelandic church, remind Björk of Sigmund Freud smoking a pipe in the Alps. “It’s not a coincidence that Western civilization discovered psychology at the same time that string quartets became huge,” she said. “People who are in string quartets for, like, 30 years together [say] it’s like a marriage of four. It’s human communication in the most intense form, both positive and negative.”

That sense of almost-uncomfortable closeness complements Björk’s wish to “amalgamate” with another person—a long-running desire in her music. “Sometimes, when people think I’m convincing someone to merge [in a song], I’m actually talking to myself,” she said. “I’m saying, ‘Be more open.’” Trying to bond, she said, “really is the theme of our life, isn’t it?”

12. “Fossora”

Fossora’s title track distills the album’s motifs—mushrooms, clarinets, slamming beats—into a raucous festival. “At last / We stayed / In one place long enough,” Björk gasps during the song’s absolutely bonkers closing section, acknowledging the period of pandemic-mandated stasis that inspired the album. Fossora is all about “shooting down roots and getting very cozy with your friends,” she said. “It is [a] celebration that all you need is in that hole.”

13. “Her Mother’s House”

(Video) How to Play 3 Riffs from Vulnicura - Björk

The oboe-related instrument known as the cor anglais sighs throughout this gentle duet between Björk and her 19-year-old daughter, Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney. The song—like, in a way, the earlier tracks about Björk’s mom—is an intergenerational farewell, though Ísadóra hasn’t actually left Björk’s life. “What I understand about U.S. culture is it’s such a rite of passage: 18 years old, the kid’s just gone,” Björk said. “In Iceland … it’s more like what you had 150 years ago, where the generations are hanging out together.”

Björk’s lyrics suggest that being protective and loving is a way of ensuring her child’s eventual independence. Then, in a verse Ísadóra wrote, her daughter describes a balloon covered with clay, still able to float: an image tying together the album’s themes—maternal, earthy, and hopeful.

FAQs

Who is Bjork's husband? ›

Who writes Bjork's music? ›

Icelandic singer and songwriter Björk has recorded more than two hundred songs for nine studio albums, two soundtrack albums, a compilation album, six remix albums and three collaboration albums. She is the sole writer and producer of most of the songs included in her albums.

How old is Björk? ›

What does Björk mean? ›

Björk, Björck, Biörck, or Bjork is a Swedish surname meaning birch. It is also an Icelandic name given to girls, meaning birch, specifically the most common native tree of Iceland, Betula pubescens tortuosa (Arctic downy birch).

Who is Björk son? ›

Does Björk have a daughter? ›

Did Björk marry Goldie? ›

Goldie was Engaged to Bjork

You could hear the fruits of their union in the "Isobel's Lonely Heart" remix that Goldie did, but it all ended up going down hill. Legend has it that during one NY gig, Goldie got into an altercation with trip-hop pioneer Tricky, who had also been romantically linked with Bjork.

How many languages does Björk speak? ›

Probably three. Bjork was born in Iceland so her language of origin is Icelandic. She is also fluent in English. And she's likely to also speak Danish as all Icelandic school children are taught English and Danish.

Does Björk have any pets? ›

friday fun fact: björk's lifestyle has never allowed her to own a dog, but she has always been partial to the samoyed breed, seen here walking softly.

Does Björk use samples? ›

Björk and sampling

But she uses samples too, or at least her producers and collaborators do. They choose their samples well. Here's one of her first big hits, “Human Behavior,” produced by Nellee Hooper. The kettle drum bassline is sampled from a Quincy Jones/Ray Brown film score.

What music software does Björk use? ›

In her DJ set at Carriageworks, Björk is using Logic Pro X.

How old is Kate Bush? ›

Who is Bjorks mother? ›

For much of the album, Björk, 56, contemplates the 2018 death of her mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, and her own generational roles as a child and a mother.

How Tall is Björk? ›

How old is Fiona Apple? ›

How do you pronounce Björk? ›

Chances are you're pronouncing Björk's name wrong. Journalists and fans alike frequently pronounce the Icelandic musician's name be-york. But as Björk herself has repeatedly explained in interviews, her name is actually pronounced be-yerk.

What mean Lund? ›

Noun. lund f (genitive singular lundar, nominative plural lundir) temperament, manner. manner, way, fashion.

How common is the name Bjork? ›

The surname Bjork is most common in The United States, where it is held by 5,037 people, or 1 in 71,959. In The United States Bjork is most frequent in: Minnesota, where 14 percent are found, California, where 11 percent are found and Nevada, where 8 percent are found.

Who is Bjorks brother? ›

Why did the Sugarcubes break up? ›

However, the band's success was short-lived. They had three top 20 UK albums – 1988's 'Life's Too Good', 1989's 'Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week! ' and 1992's 'Stick Around For Joy' – before calling it quits. They split when singer Bjork left to pursue an incredibly successful solo career.

How old is Isadora Barney? ›

Who is Björk's daughter? ›

Where does Björk's daughter go to school? ›

For someone who's the daughter of Björk and the artist Matthew Barney, the up-and-comer is remarkably low-key. In fact, she's currently studying at Pitzer College, a liberal arts university in Claremont, California, and was even working at a record store in her mother's hometown of Reykjavík earlier this year.

How old was Björk when she had her daughter? ›

“There's definitely a lot of cooking happening,” Björk told Spin magazine. “People are not going to believe it, I know, but I've always been a bit of a homebody. I had a child at the age of 20, and just when he was getting big, I got a new one."

Does Björk own an island? ›

To thank singer and activist Björk for her cultural contributions both in and out of the country, Iceland has given her an island. Elliðaey, as it's called, is not just any island, though (read: a tropical wasteland somewhere), it's genuinely a piece of mountain/crater hybrid off the southern coast of the country.

Why is Goldie's teeth gold? ›

I was called Goldie when I was a kid because of my hair. I had dreadlocks and they were light coloured, so my name was Goldilocks. Later, I cut my locks because I was breakdancing and they got in the way. So I got gold teeth to match my name.

Did Björk date tricky? ›

He was in a brief relationship with Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk in the 1990s. When asked in mid-2013 about the time the pair spent together, Tricky stated: "I wasn't good for Björk. I wasn't healthy for her. I feel she was really good to me, she gave me a lot of love and she really was a good person to me.

Is Björk rich? ›

What is Bjork's Net Worth? Bjork is an Icelandic musician and producer who has a net worth of $20 million. She first rose to fame as the lead singer of the band the Sugarcubes. She started her solo career in the early '90s with her electronic dance music and jazz album, "Debut".

What does Björk eat? ›

And if you lead your life in a turned-on way it doesn't really matter whether you eat three oysters a day or not—mere details.” Björk eats raw meat. Whole raw steaks, for God's sake. “I really like raw things,” she states. “I prefer raw meat to cooked meat.

What did Björk do? ›

Björk, the teen

From lighthearted children's music, the ever so cool 14-year-old Björk formed an all-girl punk band, called (in English) Spit and Snot. And, the following year she would not only start a new band, this time a jazz fusion group called Exodus, but also graduate from music school.

Where was the singer Borg from? ›

Adolf Andreas Speyer (born 02 November 1960 in Floridsdorf, Vienna), best known by his stage name Andy Borg, is an Austrian Schlager singer and TV presenter. He lives in the Passau area and has been recording music since his debut album Adios Amor which was released as an English version in 1982.

How many speakers are there in Icelandic? ›

Icelandic speaking countries

The Icelandic language (native name: Íslenska) has its roots in the Indo-European language family. With a share of around 96%, it is most widespread in Iceland. A total of about 356,853.0 people worldwide speak Icelandic as their mother tongue.

Why is Björk popular? ›

She later joined bands the most recognized being Sugarcubes but in 1993 she began her solo career. Björk has been known for her unique style in music, attire and music videos right from the beginning and had used her fame to be a spokesperson for education and the perseverance of nature.

Who produced Vespertine? ›

Vespertine
LabelOne Little Indian Elektra
ProducerBjörk Thomas Knak Martin Gretschmann Marius de Vries
Björk chronology
Selmasongs (2000) Vespertine (2001) Greatest Hits (2002)
11 more rows

How old is Ariana? ›

Who is Kate Bush's partner? ›

Does Kate Bush get royalties? ›

According to Music Business Worldwide, Bush is considered somewhat of a unicorn in the music industry. While her back catalogue is now distributed by Warner Music Group, her own company, Noble & Brite, owns its recording right. As a result, she is likely to keep 80 per cent or more of recorded music royalties (USD2.

Who is Matthew Barney married to? ›

Who is Björk son? ›

Does Björk have a daughter? ›

Did Björk marry Goldie? ›

Goldie was Engaged to Bjork

You could hear the fruits of their union in the "Isobel's Lonely Heart" remix that Goldie did, but it all ended up going down hill. Legend has it that during one NY gig, Goldie got into an altercation with trip-hop pioneer Tricky, who had also been romantically linked with Bjork.

What is Björk's birthday? ›

Who is Chanel Björk? ›

Chanel Björk - Television Presenter - RÚV | LinkedIn.

What is Matthew Barney known for? ›

After graduating from Yale in 1991, Barney entered the art world to almost instant controversy and success. He is best known as the producer and creator of the Cremaster films, a series of five visually extravagant works created out of sequence (Cremaster 4 began the cycle, followed by Cremaster 1, etc.).

Why did the Sugarcubes break up? ›

However, the band's success was short-lived. They had three top 20 UK albums – 1988's 'Life's Too Good', 1989's 'Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week! ' and 1992's 'Stick Around For Joy' – before calling it quits. They split when singer Bjork left to pursue an incredibly successful solo career.

How old is Isadora Barney? ›

Who is Björk's daughter? ›

How old is Kate Bush? ›

Why is Goldie's teeth gold? ›

I was called Goldie when I was a kid because of my hair. I had dreadlocks and they were light coloured, so my name was Goldilocks. Later, I cut my locks because I was breakdancing and they got in the way. So I got gold teeth to match my name.

Did Björk date tricky? ›

He was in a brief relationship with Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk in the 1990s. When asked in mid-2013 about the time the pair spent together, Tricky stated: "I wasn't good for Björk. I wasn't healthy for her. I feel she was really good to me, she gave me a lot of love and she really was a good person to me.

Is Björk rich? ›

What is Bjork's Net Worth? Bjork is an Icelandic musician and producer who has a net worth of $20 million. She first rose to fame as the lead singer of the band the Sugarcubes. She started her solo career in the early '90s with her electronic dance music and jazz album, "Debut".

Videos

1. Björk - Venus As A Boy
(björk)
2. BJÖRK - FOSSORA - ALBUM REVIEW
(Project)
3. björk : human behaviour (HD)
(björk)
4. Björk - Virus - Music Video
(BjorksMusic)
5. björk: utopia
(björk)
6. Björk, David Arnold - Play Dead
(björk)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lidia Grady

Last Updated: 11/15/2022

Views: 6664

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lidia Grady

Birthday: 1992-01-22

Address: Suite 493 356 Dale Fall, New Wanda, RI 52485

Phone: +29914464387516

Job: Customer Engineer

Hobby: Cryptography, Writing, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Calligraphy, Web surfing, Ghost hunting

Introduction: My name is Lidia Grady, I am a thankful, fine, glamorous, lucky, lively, pleasant, shiny person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.