With over nine studio albums and countless live performances, Bjork has established herself as one of the reigning visionaries in modern music. Over the course of her career, she has embraced electronica, house, and neo-jazz while steadily evolved into something more deeper. With each subsequent album, Bjork has not only expanded her style but broke down boundaries in the process. Constantly subverting genre to craft her own personal statements, Bjork’s body of work stands as a continuous creative progression. As such, it is immensely challenging to discuss which single album stands as her greatest achievement. In honor of her recent residency at the Shed in NYC this past May and June now seemed like the perfect time for a retrospective of her immense body of work.

Exploring Her Sound With DEBUT

The aptly titled record DEBUT serves as the world’s first foray into Bjork’s universe. The album helped to develop her quirky yet eclectic sound which merged house, funk, and also contained hints of the grandiose pop she would later perfect.

Lyrically, DEBUT is a more care-free and upbeat record than some of the material that would follow later. There’s a notable exuberance to tracks such as “Big Time Sensuality” and  “Human Behavior” that cannot be found on some of her more recent work. Still, her avant-garde tendencies begin to form here. The song “Venus as a Boy” is evidence of Bjork’s symbolic lyricism her and grand ambitions. What comes across as especially striking about DEBUT is the purity of its songcraft. Bjork is playing with everything in her sandbox and it’s exciting to hear the potential of it all.

Looking back, we now know she would go on to create more innovative work. However, DEBUT’s enthusiasm has sustained itself quite well. Where DEBUT sits in Bjork’s discography depends greatly on the listener. For some, it’s her best work and some consider this the start of her defining era. For others, it’s merely a stepping stone in a career full of masterpieces. Either way, DEBUT remains a highly accomplished and exciting listening experience. It may be a cliche but this was truly the beginning of an era.

Bjork
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POST Is Where Bjork Becomes Bjork

While DEBUT helped gain Bjork critical and commercial standing, POST is truly the record that solidified her artistry. More so than that previous effort, POST has a vast musical landscape that can’t be contained. It expands upon the electronica and house of DEBUT but also introduces trip-hop, jazz, art-pop and embraces avant-garde. Bjork’s sound becomes more defined but also more dynamic. Its moments of pure bombast are also followed by moments of pure intimacy.

POST contains plenty of musical surprises along the way including truly staggering moments in the form of “Army of Me” and “Hyperballad”. The Broadway jazz of “It’s Oh So Quiet” is at once baffling yet brilliant and a testament to Bjork’s versatility.

The album’s lyricism is more raw and emotional than on DEBUT and vocally Bjork seems more in command than ever before. The overall aesthetic and texture of Bjork’s sound truly come alive during POST, helping to showcase Bjork’s range in terms of songwriting and craft.

POST can make a case for Bjork’s most ambitious record which is saying quite a bit. With this album, not only did she survive the sophomore slump but laid the foundation for a prosperous body of work.

Bjork
Courtesy of One Little Indian

Bjork is Solidified On HOMOGENIC

Two albums in, Bjork already seemed poised for a stratospheric rise. With her newfound fame came unforeseen pressures and trials. Amongst them were stalking incident that haunted her and seemed to influence her state of mind. This darker perspective drives and is reflected in much of her third studio album HOMOGENIC.

While electric music was integrated into Bjork’s music before, here it’s utilized in a sleeker and moodier fashion. The dominant sound of HOMOGENIC is dramatic, gothic and atmospheric with Bjork’s vocals more vulnerable than before. Her sonic ambitions and deeper themes feel fleshed out here in a way she had not previously achieved. More than ever each track carries a true purpose.

Lyrically and thematically, Bjork examines heartbreak, sadness, and sorrow here in an unflinching fashion. HOMOGENIC does away with the care-free and whimsical moments of DEBUT and POST and instead focuses primarily on introspection. The primal intensity of tracks such as “Hunger” and the scope of tracks such as “Joga” immediately impact us unlike anything else in her discography.  Other tracks such as “5 Years” and “All is Full Of Love” fully embody Bjork’s avant-garde tendencies for maximum impact. Here Bjork’s sound becomes not just more confident and mature but fully human as well.

Bjork
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VERSPERTINE is Where Things Start To Sound Elegant

After the heartbreak and turmoil of HOMOGENIC, Bjork finds herself embracing intimacy and sensuality on VESPERTINE.

The album gives us what has come to be considered the classic Bjork sound. It’s heavy on orchestral elements, instrumentation and has some truly beautiful arrangements. The overall sound is elegant, classical yet also organic. VESPERTINE may very well be Bjork’s prettiest sounding record to date.

In terms of subject matter, VESPERTINE finds Bjork celebrating newfound love and it’s many pleasures. Her explorations of the nature of intimacy are most deeply explored on “Hidden Place” and “Cocoon”. The true centerpiece of the album, however, is “Pagan Poetry”. This track demonstrates Bjork’s ability to create ethereal music that resonates.

The allure of VESPERTINE lies in how enigmatic Bjork is here. VESPERTINE isn’t a record that lays things out clearly but its mysteries make it more fascinating to unpack. That said, it still features a deep well of level of warmth and soul. Never one to conceal her vulnerabilities, the Bjork of VESPERTINE often appears to be her most intimate self.

Bjork
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MEDULLA Shows Bjork’s Experimental side

MEDULLA embodies Bjork’s commitment to constant experimentation with its almost entirely acapella arrangements. Marrying that sound with the almost classical nature of VESPERTINE makes the record into something more primal. Bjork’s vocals stand out more than ever here and MEDULLA’s arrangements are some of her most haunting. The overall result is a deeply hypnotic listening experience.

Bjork’s songwriting follows the production’s example. As a result, this record offers some of her most visceral lyrical compositions on tracks such as “Who Is It” and “Where Is The Line”. Bjork’s approach towards subverting traditional song structure makes MEDULLA a more challenging listen but one that showcases her ever-growing artistry.

MEDULLA does serve as something of a transitional album presenting a Bjork who was deviating away from the electro-pop of her earlier works towards more abstract soundscape. In this regard, the end result isn’t the easiest or most straight-forward listen but its rewards are no less satisfying.

Bjork
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VOLTA Embrace Mainstream (Sort Of)

On VOLTA, Bjork embraces some modern trends. However, the record does so in decidedly Bjork fashion. As a result, it is an album that’s playful in terms of its style and presentation. While not as unified as other works, it still results in a fun and largely enjoyable piece. It often alternates between more upbeat dance tracks and more atmospheric ones.

Far more influenced by hip-hop and world music than previous Bjork efforts, the singer even enlists the help of super-star producer Timbaland. The resulting track — “Earth Intruders” — sees the Icelandic songstress for “Earth Intruders” tackle these genres from an abstract angle.

Other tracks hew closer to home. Bjork does maintain her artistic tendencies on “The Dull Flames of Desire” and her duet with Antony with “My Juvenile”. What VOLTA may lack in the conceptual spirit it does make up for in terms of diversity of sound and approach. This willingness to play and adapt allows it to become one of Bjork’s more accessible albums. Additionally, it makes a strong argument for just how wide and deep her overall musical range must be.

Now considered one of her least essential release, VOLTA feels ready for a re-appreciation. The album remains a fascinating effort and boasts a surprisingly up-to-date and well-rounded sound even now.

Bjork
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BIOPHILIA Does Things Big

As an artist, Bjork has never been one to do things small. Even by her standards though BIOPHILIA feels like a big pull. To begin with, Bjork launched a highly immersive campaign to coincide with the album. Boasting an interactive app, a set of live shows, and it’s own documentary, BIOPHILIA unleashed her commitment to a massive scope beyond the walls of the album.

The sound of BIOPHILIA reflected this as well. Bjork embraced a symphonic sound that embodied her classical sound but also delved greatly toward into her love of experimentation. The music itself is grand and gothic and its arrangements are some of her most elaborate. BIOPHILIA in some ways feels a culmination record. It has the elegance of VESPERTINE right up against the rawness of likes of HOMOGENIC and MEDULLA. “Thunderbolt” wonderfully captures BIOPHILIA’s sprawling yet abstract scope. The stunning centerpiece track “Crystalline” recalls the hip-hop edge of VOLTA while still being easily the album’s most experimental.

BIOPHILIA is certainly a clear document of Bjork the artist at work.  What we can only know now in retrospect is how the record set her up for two of her arguably most significant works. In this light, it’s feeling of culmination marks BIOPHILIA as both a beginning and an end, a celebration of what she had done before while embracing the new.Bjork

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Bjork’s Soul Is Bared On VULNICURA

VULNICURA is one of, if not simply the most personal album of Bjork’s career. Recorded after a bitter divorce from her long-time husband, VULNICURA explores themes of heartache, loss, anger, and confusion all in Bjork’s own unique perspective.

Musically, VULNICURA harkens back to the HOMOGENIC era with its sonic textures and mood. It is still very much a Bjork record with its sense of atmosphere and tone. Still, the record sees her stepping away from her avant-garde tendencies to embrace a more raw and direct sound. Over the course of nearly an hour, Bjork charts her deteriorating relationship in intricate and penetrating fashion.

Bjork, in many ways, marked this effort as her songwriter’s album. As a result, it features some of her most intimate and honest material to date. She matches that vocally with an achingly vulnerable and soulful performance. As an experience, VULNICURA is Bjork at her most human. Even after all these years, she can still surprise with how effectively she can break our hearts with her pain.

Bjork
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Love Is Found In UTOPIA

UTOPIA, Bjork’s newest release, serves as something of a companion piece to VULNICURA in its exploration of romantic love. VULNICURA gives us the portrait of a relationship dismantling, while UTOPIA counters with a love in first bloom.

Unsurprisingly then, musically it proves much warmer and open record than its predecessor’s gritty and glooming offerings. Despite being a more positive record though, UTOPIA still challenges traditional form and structure. Tracks such as “The Gate” indicate a new found love for flutes while nodding to the classical arrangements of VESPERTINE.

Lyrically, Bjork delves more into her spiritual side on UTOPIA emphasizing connection and feeling much more than usual.

Deftly combining her artistic side with a more optimistic and forward-thinking spirit, UTOPIA may be Bjork’s most accessible album. Nonetheless, it also lays claim to startling fluidity and genuine emotional resonance. Its maturity and openness is a strong showcase of Bjork’s generosity as a performer.

Bjork
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Bjork’s Work Continues To Inspire

Bjork has unquestionably established herself as one of the electric and influential visionaries of all time. Each album reveals a different facet of her vast and diverse talents. Each body of work illustrates her constant artistic evolution. With her recent exhibition at The Shed, one can feel the promise of more innovative and dynamic art to come.

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