Once again, Iceland’s best-known pop-experimentalist proves that screwing with people’s expectations produces exciting results. On Volta, Björk ditches the a capella treatments of 2004’s Medulla and instead mines elements of electronica, hip-hop, contemporary classical and world music to create a wholly unclassifiable sound.
She’s enlisted a swath of musicians—including rap producer Timbaland, Lightning Bolt’s noise-rock drummer Brian Chippendale, as well as a group of Icelandic brass players—to help her catalog the vast array of noises presented on the album. The result is a mixture of heavily syncopated, beat-driven tracks with mellower, dreamlike overtones. Lyrically, Björk is more political on Volta than on previous releases. Tirades like “Declare Independence,” for instance, demonstrate her growing ire with U.S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq.
For all its strengths, Volta isn’t without a few blemishes. The biggest shortcomings are the vocal contributions of Antony Hegarty from New York City’s Antony and The Johnsons. On “Dull Flame of Desire” and “My Juvenile,” his cringe-inducing croons sound awkward and misplaced next to Björk’s alluring vocals.
Despite this, Volta’s multifariousness offsets its flaws and affirms that Björk’s experiments in composition keep getting better and weirder with each subsequent release. (Ira Sather-Olson)