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ALBUM REVIEW: Björk, Fossora

Grade: B+

I have been up since 3pm writing reviews and I saved Björk’s Fossora for last. It’s now 6:56 AM and you are getting what may be the last of AntiArt written reviews. Enjoy it while it lasts, and be sure to check out our other Björk reviews here.

I have been deep-diving into Björk’s discography for the last year now, being sure to catalog her changes in style, aesthetic and ethos as I progressed from Post to Homogenic and beyond. I have yet to review Debut, but in time I will. For each progressive album aside from Medulla, I spent my listening sessions beside my two dogs, Snoopy and Dusty. I would be blasting “I Miss You” or “Pagan Poetry” in my headphones as I let them outside, gave them water and gave them pets of affirmation. While Dusty is younger, but more stout, Snoopy was the leaner elder statesman.

He was always husky in his younger years, but as he neared 14 years of age, he began to take on a really gaunt appearance. His legs wouldn’t work like they used to, either. He would lay on my bed in the sunlight as I reflected on that music. He was right by my side as I discovered that Homogenic was my personal favorite album of all time. He would come up the stairs every hour to see if I was ok, then go all the way back down. You could tell he was in pain even then, but he continued to move to keep himself sharp and to not worry us. He is the heart and soul of this entire AntiArt project. Without him, I wouldn’t have found the ease within to reflect on art in the way I did. Taking care of him brought me immense joy and motivated me to keep writing and recording through some really fucked up times in my life, to be perfectly blunt. Having to eventually bring him to the vet and put him down was deeply sad, but brought my entire family together in a way we don’t typically meet. We all spent so much quality time with him, he taught us so much, and he was finally able to rest after a long life. This review is dedicated to his memory.

Here’s what I’m getting from this album. Mushrooms are multifaceted symbols here that represent many aspects of life and death. They grow best in manure and dirt, which we all know is made from animal waste and decomposed plants, animals and mushrooms. As she did on Medulla, Björk’s unique deployment of choral acapella makes the production of these songs feel alive, like mushrooms. “Mycelia” is a glitchy arrangement of overlapping vocals that is meant to sonically represent family, like mushrooms multiplying. The follow-up “Sorrowful Soul”, is both death and rebirth at once. While Björk personally mourned the death of her mother in 2018, it was a chance for her mother’s legacy to live on through the sacrifice of her earthly body and the stories she leaves behind. “Ancestress” is one of Björk’s best songs in many years, stacking up at 7 minutes. It explores her mother’s passing by focusing on the concept of time. Even if Björk made this song 20 minutes of reminiscing and singing about her mother’s last days, it would have to hit an endpoint. It’s very impressive how she has the emotional clarity to accurately describe such painful memories. Her mother was on a machine that kept her alive and died next to her with translucent hands, and Björk tells us this with strength. It’s as if she is making a promise to her bloodline that she will continue to carry on the torch of her mother, it’s honestly really touching.

Mushrooms are represented as an inquisitive and heavy, Planet Earth-esque element in the sound in the form of bass clarinets. According to her NME profile, she says “You need to almost be inside all that bass. It fills the whole room. That’s the grounding of being able to stay in your house.” Björk had the privilege of being able to cabin and quarantine off for all of the worldwide pandemic. This idea of grounding sprung out of those conditions, mixed with a creeping urge to party. Female pop stars like Shygirl and Charli XCX kept the club culture going during the pandemic with songs like “BDE” and “visions” respectively. Now that lockdown is no more and she is touring, this feels like a more accurate and esoteric take on the pandemic. It doesn’t feel on the nose, doesn’t mention the virus but still stands firmly in that 2020 headspace.

The concept is pretty genius to be honest, it is still impressive to me that Björk is continuing to make bold and ambitious art like this so deep into her career. While the fact that she drives a Range Rover and flies on private jets definitely clashes with her overly hopeful views about environmentalism, this doesn’t particularly affect the record. These ideas merely inform the themes of the album, they don’t translate to the content. This is not her Solar Power, thank god. The music here is thrilling, danceable and tear-producing. The lead singles “Atopos” and “Ovule” are perfect back to back, and I highly recommend viewing the videos for both as you listen to the album. The visual for “Atopos” takes place in a Yo Gabba Gabba adjacent dark world where clarinets and DJs all grow from the same Björkshroom. Lyrically, it speaks to a troubling world where people aren’t able to connect or find peace. It’s a place where plants struggle to communicate with one another and perform essential functions. The clashes between hardstyle bass drums and woodwind instruments really becomes a full-on 150 BPM battle session on the title track. Like mushrooms themselves, the song slowly begins to reveal its true power. She is a female digger (‘fossora’ in Latin) who “Dissolves old pain dug down to rot”. As the track nears the end, the gabbers take complete control and it makes for one of her hardest tracks since “Army of Me”.

Following the tracks about her late mother, we get "Fagurt Er í Fjörðum" and “Victimhood”. Both of them dig deep with the bass clarinets to represent a deep sense of lostness, darkness and sadness she finds after her mother is no longer there. “Fargurt…” is a ominous Icelandic poem that sees Björk looking for refuge and shelter. “Victimhood” is one of the most tense and cinematic moments here, and also one of the best songs here. Over these clacking ‘80s drum sounds and titanic bass notes, Björk is in a rowboat alongside, singing into the void. The soundplay here is some of the best she’s ever done, period, the bass travels between my headphones like a barracuda waiting to strike. She gets deeply personal, almost as if she’s going back to therapy, “Rejection, it left a void/That is never satisfied/Sunk into victimhood/Felt the world owed me love”. Facing one’s true self and confronting the past can be really dizzying and terrifying, and Björk captures the stress well with this song. Also the drums here go dummy hard.

“Allow” and “Freefall” are two of the weaker songs here. Also, just generally speaking there are awkward clashings of bass clarinet and DJ programming that comes off as disjointed in a goofy way. I do not see this inspiring a new genre, let’s put it that way. But to hear Björk put her whole skill set to use and comfort personal issues in this unique world she’s built for herself is a real Kate Bush Hounds of Love moment for her career. It also reminds me a lot of Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters in how nostalgic, defiant and home-centric it is. There is not much I hate about this album, but some of it doesn’t hold up as well when compared against classic releases. Even my least favorite record of her’s that I’ve heard, Medulla, is about as good as this. It is a little bit too deep into the concept that the entire thing feels kind of solidified in this very specific muck. I love that the final song features her daughter, it really symbolically ties it all together.

Regardless, Björk and her team made a great album. I am satisfied as a Björk stan and a person looking for subversive music. This is a sprawling examination of life, death, family, trauma and self-reliance that will grow on people with time, kind of like moss. It’ll make you laugh on “Fungal City” and cry during “Ancestress”. It goes hard sometimes, then goes completely left-field at others. It’s an exciting and electric record that makes another milestone in her one-in-a-lifetime career. I’m so happy this is out, and now it’s time for me to sleep. Goodnight. R.I.P. Snoopy you would’ve loved Fossora.

8:17 AM.

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