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 still managed to sell 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 in the UK.
Between then and 2011 Björk released a further six albums, including 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. In addition, she also has two film soundtracks to her name and in 2015 her work became the subject a career retrospective exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Her most recent album, 2015's Vulnicura, was one of her most personal and poignant records to date; written in the wake of the singer's split from her partner of 13 years, filmmaker and artist Matthew Barney, Vulnicura was an album full of raw emotion and heartbreak that courageously laid bare the pain and difficulty of ending a relationship in brutally honest fashion.
This week Björk returns and her new record, titled Utopia, finds the Icelandic artist in a much happier place. Described by the singer herself as an album about “rediscovering love – but in a spiritual way, for lack of a better word”, Utopia is undoubtedly a record with a much lighter tone than its predecessor.
Co-produced by Arca, with whom she worked on Vulnicura, Utopia contains 14 new tracks, including new singles 'The Gate' and the delicately euphoric 'Blissing Me'. Unlike their previous work together, however, where Arca had come on board when most of the tracks were already written, here the pair worked together from scratch and Björk credits her co-producer with pushing her in a direction she had hinted at on tracks such as 'Pagan Poetry' b-side 'Batabid', but never fully explored until now.
Packed with breathy synths and featuring the usual array of weird and wonderful instrumentation, including a 12-piece flute ensemble, Utopia is another stopover in the ongoing journey of one of the world's most singular artists, and one that her fans are bound to fall in love with.
You can find the new video for 'Blissing Me' below, beneath that we've picked out five key moments from Björk's impressive career so far...
'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.