Hope Is A Muscle | Bjork’s 10th album takes us back to the surface and deep in soils of healing, hope, and loss.
Coming out of the healing and otherworldly realms of Utopia, we move back from this floating abyss to the earth’s surface. An influence on the sound for this project came from the quarantine that Covid- 19 created in 2020 and 2021. This project is a bit more freeform around its concept, something that greatly works in its favor. It’s easy to draw comparisons to prior projects with Fossora: acapella tones from Medulla, horns from Volta, and scientific notes from Biophilia. Yet, Fossora is creature all its own. There is plenty to feast upon from various textures to the many featured artists that pop up (including both of Bjork’s adult children). The mycelia of the this project’s sound is as large as a mushroom colony with it’s own variety of fruiting bodies to take joy in. In discussing some of the inspiration behind Fossora, Bjork told The Guardian:
“There’s always a BPM in our bodies, you know? And I think through Covid we were all pretty lazy, just sitting home reading books, so when we got drunk or partied it was like we went a little bit mental, then we just fell asleep before midnight. Slow energy, but then it goes double… a little bit gabber.”
The last sentence a foreshadowing of the inclusion of Gabber Modus Operandi to provide the pulse to this project.
“Atopos” is a masterful opener to the project. I always see the opening track to a Bjork project as a thesis statement and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a chaotic mix of dissonant bass clarinets, pseudo-reggaeton beats, and a sick breakdown fit for rave at the end of the track. This song, and several others on the album, features Kasimyn. These songs were meant to include the entirety of the Indonesian electronic duo Gabber Modus Operandi, but was narrowed down to Kasimyn after allegations of sexual abuse arisen around Ican Harem. The title comes from the Greek word for strange/out of place and that perfectly personifies the feeling of the quarantine in a nutshell. You can read the lyrics, “Are these not just excuses to not connect?/ Our differences are irrelevant/ To insist on absolute justice at all times/ It blocks connection”, either as the divisiveness of COVID or even a subtle hint at the extremities of cancel culture being our necrotic roots. Whatever way you look at it, it’s Bjork’s desperate way to get the fibers of fungi to connect us again and dance our asses off.
“Ovule” brings in the boastful sound of horns to accompany the many textures that weave around the landscape Bjork has created here. Out of all the tracks on the record, I find this one to be the most abstract. My take on the song is like a rebirth. The ovule (an egg) is used as symbolism to give us new life after the world that we once knew has been turned on its side, “The hostility a broken heart endures/ The velocity of the injury / Is returned (is returned) to the world/ With the same grin showing teeth.” I enjoy the regal horns and prismatic vocals, but I still find this to be the most obtuse song on the record and thus hard to full get into.
One of three short tracks on the record, “Mycelia” is a purely instrumental song. The voices glitch and bubble like a mythical forest of bugs and fungal lifeforms. I love the arpeggiated raises and falls that come and go. It feels like fireflies and glowing mushrooms bouncing about.
“Sorrowful Soil” is a purely acapella song. I love how lush the choir of voices sound in the void. The void they break with soil is the empty nest that Bjork is now dealing with. After a painful separation from ex Matthew Barney and her youngest child’s departure from home, she’s left putting back down roots again on her own. The lines, “In a woman’s lifetime/ She gets four hundred eggs/ But only two or three nests/ Woven with a mother’s life force (Woven with a mother’s life force)”, really drive home the since of sorrow she has at chapter of motherhood (at least for a child) closing. There’s also a mother’s fear for how she was as a mother towards in the end of track, “Nihilism happеning cuts through this/ Nihilism happening/ You did well, you, you did your best.” It’s a very touching and beautiful song. The movement from this feeling into “Ancestress” as it feels almost introspective about Bjork’s part as a mother after her mother’s death.
The longest track on the album is “Ancestress”. Coming in at a little over 7 minutes, it’s a touching celebration of the life of Bjork’s late mother Hildur. Bjork adds in chimes and gongs that give this epic around her mother’s life a ritualistic beauty. The strings add the appropriate sadness, yet never overshadow the reverence to the commemoration of Hildur’s life:
“I wrote pages and pages and pages, and edited it down, just to leave exactly the words I want to be there. If I was a priest, it’s what I would’ve said at the funeral.”
You follow her mother’s life from Bjork’s memories of her as child, to her diminishing health, and eventual death. I find her way to discussing Hildur’s dyslexia so beautiful, “She had idiosyncratic sense of rhythm/ Dyslexia, the ultimate freeform/ She invents words and adds syllables/ Hand-writing, language all her own.” Bjork revels in her mother’s resilience even on her death bed. I love the notion of burying her in your own body, “By now, we share the same flesh…” She can keep her mother alive in her and her in her daughter. Bjork stated on her website that she may have been unconsciously inspired by the Icelandic song “grafskrift”, which tells the life of someone’s father through their life.
The second, and shortest intermission, is “Fagurt Er í Fjörðum” (“Beautiful it is the fjords”). The song’s lyrics are taken from the Icelandic folk poem of the same name. It speaks of the beauty and the danger of the Icelandic climate. Bjork sings these lines of a subtle synth organ. Like much of the music on the album, it sounds very regal (almost holy). The dark tone is a sort of epilogue to the prior two tracks that came before it.
One of my favorites from the album is “Victimhood”. The bass clarinets are out of this world. These thick, deep tones evolve into these looming gigantic shadows that lumber around the song. They change from bass clarinets to ominous baritones and tubas. This miasma is the lingering depression and anger life over from “Black Lake” and “Body Memory”. Here, Bjork realizes this victim mentality she’s held on to for safety is only pulling her under, “Rejection, it left a void/ That is never satisfied/ Sunk into victimhood/ Felt the world owed me love.” I love the addition of the clarinets midway through the track. They’re like beacons to follow out of the tar swamps that tried to pull her under. It’s such an excellent way to close out that chapter in her life in such an emotive way.
“Allow” is a leftover track from the Utopia sessions. As such, it lush composition of flutes that surround you. Unlike some of the songs from the last record, “Allow” feels much more fleshed out sonically. It’s a very sweet ode to Arca, her producer for Vulnicura and Utopia:
“We had a lot of holidays together. [A group of us] got Airbnbs in the Caribbean. We’d walk in the jungles, recording birds. The lyrics are very much like that. Just us, swimming in the ocean for days. On day nine, that song just happened.”
It’s a joyful celebration of the growth of her [Arca] art alongside Bjork, “Allow, allow, allow it to happen (Allow, allow you to grow)/ Oh, happen to us/ Allow, allow, allow (Ooh).” Norwegian singer Emilie Nicolas’s guest vocals only further add to the warmth the song breathes. It’s like a summer breeze through the forest oasis on this album. If the flutes on Utopia didn’t quite work for you, I think this will suit your ears much better.
“Fungal City” takes us right back to the toadstool infused world Bjork has conjured up. A mix of springy clarinets and fluttering strings follow us through these woodlands. Providing guest vocals in experimental R&B artist serpentwithfeet who added an addition verse to “Blissing Me” on the song’s single. Bringing that song up, it’s like a part two to “Blissing Me”. She’s enamored with this new person in her life. The metaphor of tree trunks rising through the moss symbolize a shift to new love. She also carries this maternal protective energy into this relationship, “Should I soften the blow of life on him?/ Cottonwool cocoon him?” She knows the many hardships that could poison his optimistic nature and grapples with this urge to shield him. You also get a jovial rave beat to end out this tender moment.
The third and last intermission on the album is “Trölla-Gabba”. This feels much more like the raising of fungal fruiting bodies out of earth. The bubbling voices only rise in octave and tone in an almost ominous way. Kasimyn ends out the track with his thunderous frantic beats that chase you out of the song.
“Freefall” lets us slowly descend through the darkness into the arms of our lover. Mirroring the emptiness of “Sorrowful Soil”, only the sullen strings and Bjork’s vocals break the darkness. Unlike the more despondent sounding strings, Bjork sing’s on this new love that’s brought new safety into her world, “I let myself freefall/ Into your arms/ Into the shape of the love we created/ Our emotional hammock.” My favorite lines, “If we cling to what we used to be/ It will burn our soul/ We will get hurt/ Unless therе is absolute trust/ Then we will bеcome one”, provide wonderful closure to all the turbulence she had weathered on Vulnicura and Utopia. We open up in the end as the string take on a staccoto nature. It feels like the roots of new love have woven a stronger foundation for this landscape.
“Fossora” is the final track featuring Kasimyn. The name Fossora comes from the feminine for “fossor” meaning “she who digs” roughly in Latin. I really like the metaphor behind this song. She’s digging into the soil to eat away at all the death (be it literal or figurative) around her and turn that into something new. It’s a brilliant take after the figurative deaths on her last two records and literal death of her mother. You’re transmuting this sorrow into new life like a mushroom creates fruiting bodies from rut. The clarinets only magnify this imagery wonderfully. The chorus, “Fossora/ Fossora/ Fossora”, will have you chanting it as a mantra for sure. It also wouldn’t be a Kasimyn feature without a truly unhinged beat breakdown at the end. It’s fantastic.
We end out the project with the touching “Her Mother’s House”. It’s a beautifully milky world painted in clarinets and synthetic woodwinds. Joining Bjork in backing vocals is Bjork’s daughter Isadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney. Her vocal trills and hums are magical. This is probably one of the most touching moments on the album. It’s a sort of promise that not only will her children always have a place in her home, but her heart, “When a mother’s house (A mother’s house)/ Has a room for each child (Each child)/ It’s only describing (Describing)/ The interior of her heart (Interior of her heart).” I find the song’s chorus to be the most bittersweet, “The more I love you (The more you love me)/ The better you will survive (The better I will survive)/ The more freedom I give you (The more freedom you give me)”, as mother and daughter call to and from one another in a proud yet humbling new chapter. We even get a little call back to “Undo” at the end of the track. I find myself not wanting to hear the song end. It’s beautifully orchestrated.
I absolute love this album from front to back. Bjork came in with a concept and then let herself freehand out she wanted the sounds and textures to come together. Unlike the rigid nature of Vulnicura and Utopia, Fossora’s malleable nature works in favor. There’s a beautiful introspection from daughter to mother from beginning to end of the album. The maternal notes give nods to the themes on Medulla. I also love the full circle we’ve made through the grief cycle of the past two projects. Even though there are hints of other projects sounds in the broth of this record, it’s a taste all its own and aged to perfection. I welcome the fungal era with open arms. My favorite tracks:
- “Sorrowful Soil”
- “Her Mother’s House”
My overall rating: 9.5 out of 10. I truly had a hard time narrowing down favorites. My one detractor was the abstraction of “Ovule” making it difficult to process. Still, I find that I will enjoy listening to this album front to back many times. The spores have gotten to me.
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