Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Album Review: Volta

More exuberant and ostentatious than the gorgeous miniatures of her most recent work, but not exactly pop music either, Bjork's sixth studio album is looser and more luxuriant than anything she's released since Debut.

It's the Timbaland cuts that give the most immediate pleasure. The rumbling, percussion-laden Earth Intruders, rightly chosen as the first single, features additional instrumentation from Congoloese experimental group Konono No 1. As if that weren't enough, freestyling avant-drummer, Chris Corsano (who has played with Sonic Youth amongst dozens of others), adds another layer of pounding beats.

On Hope, Timbaland's synthesised tabla flutters up against the kora playing of Malian Toumani Diabate. Innocence is the most extraordinary of the three - thumping and scratchy, and probably Timbaland's best beat since he crafted Missy Elliot's Work It. It also has Bjork at her most fiercely triumphant since Violently Happy.

More ferocious still is Declare Independence, which uses samples from Bjork's Drawing Restraint 9 compositions and a manic techno beat, this time ushered in by Mark Bell, a collaborator of Bjork's since Homogenic. It recalls Bell's work on the second LFO album. He returns again on I See Who You Are, which also features Chinese pipa player, Min Xiao-Fen.

The other key contributor is Antony Hegarty, who duets with Bjork on two tracks. The operatic Dull Flame Of Desire's lyrics are taken from a translation of a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev. It also features drums from Brian Chippendale, the drummer/vocalist for Lightning Bolt. My Juvenile opts for a much more minimal approach.

Wanderlust begins with a long chorus of ship's horns before Bjork sails in with a raft of seagoing metaphors and stuttering, Aphex Twin-esque beats. The track was co-written by Sjón, who previously wrote Bachelorette and Oceania for Bjork.

Volta offers a far broader approach than Medulla or Vespertine, with stronger and better tunes than either album, as well as the restless, boundary-pushing innovation expected of Bjork. It's not necessarily more adventurous, but certainly more of an adventure.

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