There’s plenty of hubbub on the old interweb about Björk’s new record Volta, which comes out next week, her first new music (aside from the Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack) since 2004’s Medulla. Videos have premiered, Saturday Night Live performances have been youtubed, and these after some kind of massive scavenger hunt played out across dummy sites with odd URLs that hosted bits and pieces of new tracks. It’s safe to say that there are few artists who inspire the kind of fanatical devotion necessary for this kind of interactive advance marketing campaign to function successfully, and about the only caveat I could even begin to level at her career thus far (aside from her association with dunderhead Matthew Barney—blech) is that overly precious, swooning segment of audience her music inspires. Not really her fault, and when you’ve made Homogenic, much worse is forgivable—in the face of the often willful obscurantism of her music, Björk’s success is pretty much singular in the (more or less) commercial pop landscape.
Since we’ve had a bit of Björk on the brain, we thought it might be an opportune time to take a trip back through that other valuable portion of her artistry: her indelible music videos. Of course saying they’re “her” videos belies the talents of folks like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze who actually “directed” the clips, but Björk’s always been nothing if not an able curator—her choice of these directors and musical partners like Matmos, Robert Wyatt, Mike Patton, or Timabaland reflects a depth of taste that far surpasses mere trendspotting. Over the next week, we’re going to try and post a couple of videos a day with a little commentary and little organization as to their order. Feel free to chime in with favorites.
Kicking off a little Michel Gondry two-fer is his stab at “Joga,” arguably the best track off Björk’s best album. Fittingly for a song that is the aural equivalent to diving into a glacier and finding a beating heart under layers of rock and ice, Gondry’s clip does exactly that. Featuring lushly beautiful Icelandic landscapes similar to the opening and closing portions of Barney’s Cremaster 3 (only minus impenetrable conceptual baggage), Gondry’s camera swoops and zooms across the terrain, pulsating in time to the irregular rhythms of the lyrics. Early on he picks out Björk, dressed in a white parka, lying alone on a beach, and then leaves her completely until the end of the piece, representing a sharp departure from that strain of her videos which focus intently on the singer’s willingness to distort and morph her image. (Some work, but others feel like they’ve created their own sub-genre of presto-chango Björk clips.) But what’s most surprising is how Gondry’s digital interventions end up feeling organic, a perfect mirror to the song’s combination of rich, natural strings and fractured electronic beats. Emotional landscapes indeed.
An earlier collaboration on “Hyperballad” represents a less successful attempt at marrying compelling images to Björk’s evocative lyrics. The opening backdrop is classic Gondry A.C. Moore surrealism—a mountain range that’s very craft-y, very fake, but also charming in its way. A peacefully sleeping Björk fades in and after a little twirl of the camera is overlaid with flickering B&W video of the singer mouthing the lyrics as the various items her character throws off of her metaphorical cliff float by and crash into pieces. The technology of the overlay certainly bespeaks of its era, looking like a quickly dashed off chyron job. I’m sure it’s intentional, but it doesn’t exactly please the eye. Things get a little more interesting, if no less visually cluttered, as video game action figure Björk (called for, I guess, by the squelchy 8-bit synth pings?) appears, running amidst power lines before plunging to her death at the bottom of a pit, a clunkily literal take on the material which contrasts sharply with the cleverness and simplicity of “Joga.” By the end of the clip, all three main elements are competing for attention and the whole enterprise turns to mush. For a song so clear-eyed in its intentions and upfront in emotion, the video is remarkably diffuse in its conception.