Homogenic is, quite simply, a stunning work. The music of Björk, who is righty credited as one of the most creative and unique artists of the past few decades, can often defy categorisation, but there is little doubt that her third studio album benefits from a coherence that has been often missing from the majority of her other records. Each arrangement on Homogenic is masterful in its own right, crafted from the consequence of an intriguing conflict between human and artificial elements. Abstract beats are fused exquisitely with lush, cinematic strings, and it sounds simultaneously perverse and beautiful. For the most part, Homogenic hasn’t aged a single year: the beats sound as crisp and imaginative now as they ever have, and the fascinating blend of IDM and baroque music remains unique even today. It certainly does not sound like a 1997 record, nor does it sound like one from 2017, such is its mystical quality. Indeed, Homogenic seems practically otherworldly, as if it could have been fashioned by anyone, of any race, of any time.
Björk’s incredibly expressive vocal delivery is as powerful as it is beautiful, and only acts as further demonstration to the supernatural quality of the record. Her soothing voice, which takes centre stage on tracks such as “Jóga” and “All is Full of Love”, can be swiftly flipped to provide an startling alternative that is showcased by the intense catharsis of “Pluto”. There are undoubtedly highlights (“Bachelorette” is worth mentioning as the greatest Bond theme that didn’t exist), but Homogenic functions flawlessly as a record in its own right, with each track complementing the next to great effect. The version of “All is Full of Love” that features at the album’s close is a critical exemplification; functioning without the mechanical beat that drives the single version, yet proceeds to work exceptionally well in the context of a closing track. Everything just falls into place perfectly. Twenty years on, and nothing sounds quite like it. Homogenic is truly one of a kind.9 10
Favourite tracks // Jóga
‘I’m going hunting’ – Björk tells us at the start of Homogenic that she is travelling, searching, hunting for home, and not stopping. The hunt is fierce: even on the album cover, Björk confronts, and conflict is Homogenic’s form. Everywhere in this music there is one element warring against another – machines threaten to drown out any human or natural sound; volcanic beats crush violins, accordions, glass harmonicas; the voice seems to be struggling with itself. In “Hunter” we are placed in a strange synthetic landscape where a drum machine pans, tapping and snaring from ear to ear. Reversed string-like noises flicker in and out of focus, the bass stalks, and there is something military about the beat. Into this hostile environment enters a string figure, a natural or human sound that seems alien.
The contrasts in the first song are inverted in the second. In “Jóga”, Björk’s string orchestra evokes emotional landscapes; nostalgic images of her homeland, Iceland. Björk sings that these landscapes are a riddle to be solved, and in the second chorus both conflicting elements are played out against each other – the voice and the strings against the volcanic components. There is a moment in this song where the drum machine is stilled, and in the distance Björk’s voice can be heard looped in Icelandic, using her native language as something personal to her but not understood by everyone listening, something concealed and close to home. “Jóga” is an ecstatic statement of the riddle at the heart of the record. Elsewhere the voice is at times exposed and intimate, as in “Unravel”, where the beats are reduced to a distant pulse while Björk sings of a distant love, slowly unravelling like a ball of yarn collected by the devil. At times it is almost destroyed, as in “Pluto”, where the voice is distorted and explodes with a scream. Here Björk sings ‘I’ll be brand new tomorrow’ – the conclusion, “All is Full of Love” is rebirth, gorgeous repose. 20 years on Björk has not stopped, searching, reinventing herself; and if this unending hunt is the driving force behind her art, Homogenic can be understood as the point at which she realised this – declaring herself ‘The Hunter’ – and the nadir of her brilliant work.10 10
Favourite tracks // Jóga
All is Full of Love
I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to discover my love for Björk’s work. Deterred by her mid-noughties output, it’s taken me two decades to delve into anything earlier. Homogenic is gigantic in many ways, each track constructing a world of musical layers, mixing the unapologetically artificial with swathes of cinematic, orchestral instrumentation, and almost completely hiding its age in the process. With each musical world in place, Björk’s unique vocals soar above them. During the week, each of us had favourite choice lyrics from across the album as Björk carefully enunciates specific passages for effect while blurring others. It makes for a dynamic, interesting performance, complementing the lyrical content which pays homage to Iceland, the power of music, and coping with emotion. Some stand out moments for me include “Bachelorette”, with its sinister and suspenseful strings and ominous piano octaves, the icy glass harp in “All Neon Like”, and the cyber-celtic atmosphere of “Jóga”. With that said, I could probably find reasons to pick each track as a stand out, with not one letting the tracklist down. My very minor disappointment is that I can’t have my cake and eat it too, as I love both the single and album versions of the closer, “All is Full of Love”, and I’m still unsure which I’d prefer. Homogenic is a fantastic album and I will certainly be returning to this and her other albums of this era. Essential listening.9 10
Favourite tracks // Bachelorette