Where To Start With... Björk
Along with Kate Bush, Björk has to rank as one of the most unique, idiosyncratic and envelope-pushing female artists in history. Despite the fact that the Reykjavik-born singer, musician and producer has created some of the most challenging and genre-bending music ever to grace the charts, she has sold more than 20 million albums over the course of her career.
Releasing her first album at the age of 11 in her native Iceland, Björk's career proper began as the vocalist in alt-rock band The Sugarcubes, who released three albums between 1988 and 1992, all of which reached the Top 20 in the UK Album Chart. Shortly after they disbanded, Björk released her first 'adult' solo LP, Debut, garnering near-universal critical acclaim and surpassing the efforts of her former bandmates by reaching No. 3.
Between then and 2011 Björk released a further six albums, culminating in 2011's hugely ambitious Biophilia project, entailing an album, an exhibition, a series of workshops and even a series of apps which allowed fans to experience and remix the album's tracks in different ways. As if that wasn't enough, she also has two film soundtracks to her name.
In January this year, just a few days after the announcement of her eighth studio album, Vulnicura, some fool thought it would be a good idea to leak the entire thing online, leading Björk to rush-release the LP as a download. However, next week you'll be able to pick up a physical copy of the album, and that's something well worth doing.
Collaborating with The Haxan Cloak and Arca, Vulnicura is Björk's most personal record in years, having been inspired largely by the singer's break-up with her long-time partner, artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney. The emotion on tracks like the epic, sprawling 'Black Lake' is palpably raw, with the song's bleak and heartbreaking lyrics bordering on outright despair: "My soul torn apart / my spirit is broken / into the fabric of all / he is woven."
As with many of Björk's records, it's a challenging listen, but it's also a rewarding one and it isn't all doom and gloom; there's hope here too, particularly as the album reaches its closing tracks. 'Lionsong' is one of her most bafflingly brilliant offerings for a long time and while it might be a little too intense for some, if you enjoy this track then you'll probably find yourself falling in love with the rest of Vulnicura pretty quickly.
You'll be able to get your hand on the album next week, but in the meantime we've picked out five of Bjork's career highlights for the uninitiated...
'Venus as a Boy'
Trying to narrow down Björk's long career to just a handful of tracks isn't easy and we could easily have made our list of five songs just from her stunning first LP, Debut, so it's tough to leave out numbers like 'Big Time Sensuality' and 'Human Behaviour', but we've decided on 'Venus As a Boy' simply because it's a great example of just how singular an artist Björk is. With its beautiful, delicate instrumentation and lilting rhythms underpinning her unique vocals, it sounds like nothing else from its era and feels just as fresh now as it did in 1993.
'Army of Me'
The opening salvo from Debut's follow-up album, Post, kicks the album off in rip-roaring fashion with it's grinding bassline and pounding drums supplying the backdrop for Björk's haunting vocals. Even on an album that includes the awesome 'Hyper Ballad' and a truly brilliant cover of Betty Hutton's 'It's Oh So Quiet', 'Army of Me' still manages to stand out from the pack. Put simply, it's still one of her best ever.
Taken from 1997's Homogenic, 'Joga' signals a move into darker, more contemplative territory for the Icelandic singer and it's brooding strings have an almost Baroque quality to them until they are joined by the track's mangled electronic beats, dragging the track into new territory. It's stark and slow, but it's also a thing of beauty.
Taken from 2001's Vespertine, this track's gentle, soaring strings have a very cinematic quality to them, layered over scratchy drumbeats that propel 'Hidden Place' while Björk sings about love and shyness. It's not one of her biggest hits, but it really deserves to be.
Whenever we put together these lists we always try to offer a cross section of an artist's career by sticking to one track per album, but how on Earth could we leave out 'Play Dead' from Debut? Accompanied by David Arnold, this track is awash with epic, swirling strings and is still one of Björk's biggest hits to date. It's a huge, orchestral beast of a track led by one of her best vocals performances and we just never tire of hearing it.