Björk’s seventh full-length, Biophilia, is being touted as an “interdisciplinary project” comprising concerts, workshops, websites, and iPad apps that correspond to each song. Oh, yes, the songs: They also apparently have something to do with Biophilia—although Björk has assured the world that, in spite of its elaborate adornment, the album is merely “a joke between me and myself.” Altruistically, she’s deemed those slow-witted giants known as human beings worthy of letting in on the joke. But Biophilia’s music is only barely potent enough—indeed, present enough—to overcome Björk’s puckish ploy for obscurity.
Where her last album, 2007’s Timbaland-assisted Volta, dared to postulate the existence of fun, Biophilia is as distanced and alienating as its title—not to mention the title of its opening track, “Moon.” A pizzicato hymn aerated by hypodermic pings and a slow hemorrhage of melody, the song sets the tone for the rest of the album’s yawning starkness. The harmony-laminated, deceptively titled “Thunderbolt” recalls the a cappella neo-antiquity of 2004’s Medúlla, but it disintegrates like a weak echo. The icy, barely visible “Dark Matter” makes The xx look like The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Of the album’s most immediate cuts, “Crystalline,” “Sacrifice,” and “Mutual Core” manage to transcend their indifference toward their own existence with peals of sequenced static and bursts of metallic atmosphere. Even then, they intermittently fizzle into half-deflated chrome balloons.
All this could be overlooked if Björk simply did what she does best: sing the fuck out of her crazy music. But even her vocals, one of the wonders of the postmodern world, feel clipped and recycled, to the point where the album could pass as a remix of itself. As minimally executed as it is maximally conceived, Biophilia doesn’t sculpt emptiness; it swims in it. By the disc’s end—and in spite of frequent flashes of celestial, awe-dropping grace—all that space accumulates to form an unfocused, almost suffocating absence of song. Maybe the apps would help.