“Post” continued Björk’s upward momentum with its adventurous, confident, colorful, and subversive take on pop music as well as, to put it lightly, ~memorable music videos~, further expanding Björk’s singular artistry and establishing her as an icon in the making. “Post” is a wonderful and influential album, an ambitious artpop landmark and an essential for the genre…but the era of its release was also very tumultuous for Björk.
For starters, the music video for lead single “Army of Me” was removed from MTV’s playlist due to its ending depicting Björk bombing an art museum around the same time of the Oklahoma City bombing, and once it was added back “Army of Me” and second single “Isobel’s” music videos were only mainly shown on MTV’s after hours programming. There were also two separate lawsuits that Björk found herself in, one involving her and Nellee Hooper being sued by Simon Fisher over writing credit disputes from the “Debut” era that was ultimately cleared in Björk and Hooper’s favor, while the revolved around an uncleared sample by Robin Rimbaud used during “Possibly Maybe” that almost saw her having to destroy 100,000 copies of “Post” before Rimbaud convinced his label to back down. Due to “Army of Me” and “Isobel’s” music videos being shafted, One Little Indian scheduled a lengthy 105 date world tour and several press and media appearances to promote “Post” that took a mental toll on Björk. The prying and invasive tabloids of the 90’s specifically affected her, resulting in Björk infamously going “‘No Love’ by Death Grips” on a reporter that had been reportedly harassing her and her son for multiple days leading up to the incident. Finally, as the “Post” era seemingly couldn’t have been more distressing or turbulent, on September 12th, 1996, an unwell and obsessive fan mailed a letter bomb rigged with sulfuric acid to Björk’s home in London before taking his own life. Thankfully the device was intercepted and no one was harmed, but it understandably radically affected Björk’s mental state.
Because of all the reasons I mentioned above, Björk sought out to record her third album in privacy away from the press and stresses of the outside world. Her touring drummer, Trevor Morais, provided her his studio in Málaga, Spain, and recording began in late 1996, only briefing pausing for Björk to promote the release of “Telegram”, a remix album of the songs from “Post” (it’s not essential listen for anyone trying to get into her, but it’s definitely interesting hearing alternative versions of this material and would recommend it for anyone that wants more Björk to listen to). She had made the decision to cease collaborating with Nellee Hooper after they, quote, “stopped surprising each other”, and instead favored the production being handled by herself, Howie B, Guy Sigsworth, Markus Dravs, and, most notably, member of the pioneering techno group LFO, Mark Bell; cited by Björk as one of her most notable influences, contributed to a large number of the tracks on the album, and would later go onto be a frequent reoccurring collaborator with her. At one point the famous hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan was going to contribute to the record’s production, though the arrangement unfortunately fell through as they were focused on finishing “Wu-Tang Forever”. Strings were performed by the Icelandic String Octet, mixing was handled by Mark “Spike” Stent with a number of others assisting him, and on September 20th, 1997, Björk released her third album, “Homogenic”.
You know what? I’m feeling CONTROVERSIAL. I’m here to deliver hot takes, and if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen! I’M NOT YOUR MOMMY’S MUSIC REVIEWER. I’m here to address the hard truth about “Homogenic” that the woke mob doesn’t want you to hear 😤:
I am so stupid.
Yeah, unoriginal, cold, “woke mob” take over here (I need to emphasize I’m saying that phrase 100% ironically), but I think “Homogenic” is absolutely brilliant and my favorite Björk album…I think. maybe. I don’t know. more on that on a later episode. Pushing that aside for now, though, “Homogenic” is a gorgeous, unique, emotionally explosive feat that, while many have tried, nobody can hope to replicate. While “Debut” and “Post” featured a variety of sounds, influences, instruments. and styles, Björk wanted this album to have one…~😏homogeneous😏~ sound of beats, strings, and voice, and the result is an album so singular that, while you can point to its influences, trying to attach a label or genre to it is doing it an incredible disservice. There are so many moments on here that just…floor me, and leave me absolutely speechless. It’s impossible to think this record was made in the mid 90’s, when creating electronic music still had great number of limitations whereas nowadays you can theoretically do anything your brain can come up with, because even twenty six years later “Homogenic” still sounds like a record light years ahead.
Take the icy opener, “Hunter”, which details the pressure she felt as the biggest musical name to come out of Iceland and her accepting that she has to keep making music and breaking boundaries or she risks hurting those dependent on her, carrying the cultural identity Iceland on her back. The song features warped, fading and reversing synth pad, accordion, big 808s hits, second interval moving staccato strings, and this glitchy, stuttering, high tempo kick and snare pattern programmed on the 909 drum machine. There’s a great video on YouTube from Captain Pikant breaking down the intricate beat on the 909 that I recommend, and learning about the limitations of the drum machine makes this complex beat all the more impressive - I do not envy Björk and Mark having to program this. The song’s vibe feels ominous, like you’re being stalked by a panther waiting for the right moment to make a kill. Also, I love the lines “I thought I could organize freedom, How Scandinavian of me”, there’s something so whimsical about this set of lyrics, and it’s an honor to see the humble origins of Amongus in the bars immediately after when she says “you sussed it out, didn’t you”. “Hunter” is an excellent opener that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album.
After that, we get “Jóga”…………
AHHHHHHHHHH GOD DAMN HOLY FUCK.
If you could tell by my ~completely normal reaction~, I love “Jóga”. Written in collaboration with Sjón, “Jóga” is a love song dedicated to Björk’s best friend, who the song is named after, as well as her home of Iceland, and I would be damned flattered if I was Björk’s bestie or Icelandic because this song is truly breathtaking. The gorgeous Icelandic strings, the harsh, distorted beats, the beyond stunning vocal performance from Björk that sounds like it’s coming from the depths of her soul, the soaring melody, her describing the emotion she feels as being pushed up to a state of emergency (god that metaphor is beautiful), the epic, futuristic beat breakdown that sounds like volcanos bursting all around you, the outro containing the surrounding and swirling of synth pads, strings, and Björk signing in Icelandic - it’s truly transcendent. Björk once referred to it as her fiercest love song, and that perfectly captures the emotion(al landscapes) this song stirs in me when I listen to this song, and it’s only been more overwhelming since I’ve been on estrogen. The amount of times I’ve cried listening to or even just thinking about this song would be embarrassing if not for the fact that it’s truly THAT good. I could go all day describing my affection for this track, but it wouldn’t ever do it justice compared to me just playing it for you to listen to in full. I try to avoid making definitive statements these days when referring to all time favorites, but I truly believe “Jóga” might be one of the best songs of all time, it is just that flooring. The only negative thing I can possibly say about it is that I wish I wrote it myself. Fuck you Björk, you absolute cunt.
As if that wasn’t enough, we then get to “Unravel”, a song less grand in instrumentation yet just as emotionally intense. Mainly backed exclusively by slow, heart eating drums, saxophones, bass, and church organ towards the backend, Björk sings of being distant from a lover and their relationship unraveling and the need for their love to rebuilt when their lover returns. Björk sings on two vocals tracks calls and responding to each other over this gorgeous instrumental, and as the song itself “unravels”, it sweeps you up in its musical core. And if that isn’t enough to sell you on it, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke called it his favorite song of all time - what, are you gonna call Thom Yorke wrong, you fake music fan? Jokes aside, this is another beautiful moment on the record, and packs a lot of punch in its short runtime and deceptively simple presentation. Following that, we get the epic “Bachelorette”, which is a sequel to the story told on “Isobel”. The song is so intense, dramatic, and urgent, with its sweeping cinematic strings, hits of the bass keys of the piano low enough to shake the earth, deep pulses of timpani, slams of metallic impacts on the downbeat, and operatic vocal melody and performance. Björk described her vision of the album cover as being in a situation “so impossible that she has to become a warrior. A warrior who has to fight not with weapons, but with love”, and this song embodies that the most on a sonic level; you can practically imagine some sort of fantastical battle or a race against the clock, like the world itself is at stake.
We then get “All Neon Like”, based on a poem Björk wrote a year earlier called “Techno Prayer”, and this track is quite literally a techno prayer. The song is yet another gorgeous addition to the tracklist, detailing someone giving a loved one strength in their moment of suffering. As shimmering tones of a glass harmonica, 808 distortion, volcanic noise impacts, angelic strings, and fuzzed synth lead create the track’s core soundscape, Björk goes from hushed whispers to furious cries as she sings to her lover. “the luminous beam heals you, don’t get angry with yourself, I’ll heal you”. Up next is “5 Years”, a track assumed by many to be about her relationship with Tricky, who worked on “Post” as I said in my review and who she recently broken up with weeks before debuting this song live. The song prominently features accordion, patriotic strings, and an electronic drum beat so distorted you’d think the machine was blown out, and Björk just tells off the other person for not being able to handle a relationship, singing “I dare you to take me on…to show me your palms, I'm so bored with cowards, That say they want, then they can't handle, You can’t handle love”. Björk’s wailing is primal and cathartic, and it pairs perfectly with the sweeping instrumental and unique beat.
“5 Years” directly leads into the next track, “Immature”, which was suspected to be about her relationship with Jungle DJ and producer Goldie, singing of mistakes in the relationship and realizing how naive it was to think he was all she needed to be happy. The song is lowkey, predominantly featuring a loop of a vocal synth and electric piano, hazy synths, and a swinging, percussion heavy drum groove. It’s certainly the most lowkey track here, but its empowering message of realizing your own worth and the meditative, hypnotic state the instrumental send you in still manages to leave a strong impression. This leads into the catchy and upbeat “Alarm Call”, easily the most fun song on the whole album. The song was rumored to be inspired by Michael Jackson, who Björk has said she admired, citing connecting to his belief that music could positively change the world, and it’s easy to imagine that’s the case as it basically sounds like a modern, Björkish take on one of his songs - hell, the “oh-oh-oh” ad libs practically sound like MJ. I love new jack swing-esque beat, the chirping synths, the funky bass, the MJ adlibs, the sine wave lead, the “beep beep” refrains, and the message of hope and the power of music with lyrics like “I want to be on a mountain top, With a radio and good batteries, And play a joyous tune and, Free the human race from suffering…you can’t say no to hope, you can’t say no to happiness”. Also, the lyric “I'm no fucking Buddhist, But this is enlightenment” is objectively hilarious. “Alarm Call” is a lovely moment of levity for an album filled with emotional intensity.
Out of nowhere, we get the wild, pulsing, and insane penultimate track, “Pluto”. Simply put, this song is batshit. The aggressive, almost nightmarish track details the feeling of needing to “destroy everything so you can start again”, and by the end of “Pluto”, you’ll feel like Björk has destroyed the world portrayed on “Homogenic”. The destructive song has an almost industrial feeling with every element in the mix being harshly distorted to hell, from the hard hitting club beat drums to the glitchy, stuttering synths, to Björk’s wild, primal, unhinged screaming. It’s like a proto-deconstructed club track, hell you can basically point to it as the exact moment the artistry of Arca was born. Man, Björk and Arca would probably sound great together now that I think about it, I hope that happens one day.
“Pluto” is an explosive climax for “Homogenic” that perfectly sets up its “after the destruction” closer, “All Is Full of Love”. In contrast to the bombastic instrumentation and glitchy, distorted beats throughout the album, especially during the destructive “Pluto”, “All Is Full of Love” is minimal, intimate, even heavenly in its presentation, with Björk herself comparing it to “birds coming out after a thunderstorm”. The song feels like ascending into heaven with long reverb instrumentation of sub bass, harp, strings, ambient synth pads, and Björk singing counterpoint with herself; surrounding you with bright, shimmering lights as Björk repeatedly cries out the mantra “All Is Full of Love”. The song is lush, fluttering, ethereal, and sends you into a state of hair raising euphoria. There’s a quote from Björk from around this time where she talks about how you can’t blame computers for a song’s lack of soul and it’s dependent on the artist putting their soul into the music, and this sentiment rings true for me especially when listening to this song. Some will life and die by the sentiment that electronic music is inherently harming the art form because it supposedly has no soul, despite albums like “Viva Las Vengeance” by Brendon Urie existing and are entirely made on analogue equipment with acoustic and electric instruments yet sound completely soulless (Since I mentioned it, I’m legally obligated to say that “Viva Las Vengeance” is peepeepoopoo music). Meanwhile, I don’t know how you can hear “All Is Full of Love”, as well as the entirety of “Homogenic”, which has heavy use of electronic and digital music methods throughout its entire runtime, and not think it’s one of the most soulful experiences you’ve ever heard. All of this to say, beautiful closer to a beautiful album.
“Homogenic” was did pretty well commercially, not the numbers of Björk’s last two numbers but still quite impressive, peaking at number 4 in the UK and 28 in the US and going gold in six countries as well as platinum in Europe, as of today selling 3.5 million copies. Critically, however, this record was adored, being rated high across the board and ending up high on many publications’ “best of” lists. It was also the second time Björk was nominated for Best Alternative Album at the Grammy’s, but once again she was snubbed from winning. What the hell, what on earth did “Homogenic” lose to . . .
Okay, fine. That’s fair. Not saying I necessarily agree, but that’s certainly not unreasonable, especially compared to other decisions the Grammy’s have made.
“Homogenic” is often cited as one of the most quintessential trip-hop, art pop, electronic, and experimental albums ever, as well as one of the best albums of the 1990’s, and for the longest time it was universally considered to be Björk’s best album. As I said above, I’ve not decided with or not I agree, but however I end up ranking it at the end of this series, make no mistake that “Homogenic” is a masterpiece. There’s significant evidence that art pop, trip hop, electronic, and experimental music would look significantly different if not for “Homogenic” - hell, there are plenty of artists working outside of the space Björk is in that have been incredibly influenced by this record. The soundscape is massive, gorgeous, grand, ambitious, theatrical, and larger than life, and Björk’s voice is emotionally charged, otherworldly, and stunning. I often find myself listening to this record and needing some time to just sit with my emotions as the compositions and performances are so intense, it’s like Björk has captured the physical and overwhelming feeling that love and heartbreak can stir within someone. What else is there to say about “Homogenic” that hasn’t be said. It’s a soulful experience that’s unlike anything else and a must listen in every sense of the term. “Homogenic” pushes me up to a state of emergency, and it’s Björk’s first perfect album.
And it wouldn’t be long for Björk to release her second one.