Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Björk – Crystalline

So apparently Vespertine is now her Blood on the Tracks, as in every new record is her best since.


Katherine St Asaph: “Crystalline” is more accessible sonically than anything Björk’s done in years, certainly since Medulla or Volta, but you’ll need to have built up Björk tolerance for the lyrics, which on paper read like the worst kind of blithe pantheistic optimism. Until you listen to them, that is — the lyrics are celebratory and resolved, but the track’s not. Most of it is built on the same low-level, half-atonal clangs that make anything they underpin sound twitchy or foreboding, interrupted by fissures of percussion that you can’t predict. It’s practically psychosomatic, the sound of anxiety only half-tamped down. Björk declares it fully tamped down toward the end, but that’s when the music sounds its most anxious; it’s the sound of the feeling of something shredding your cerebellum and making it bounce off your sternum toward your gut. You can’t even hear the sparkles in the track, and what’s going on sounds less like conquering than absorbing rounds of machine-gun fire. This isn’t music to reassure, but it doesn’t go far enough to unsettle or scare. Instead it just sits there undoing itself, and I still can’t decide whether that’s intentional.

Iain Mew: It’s a hard to believe that Vespertine didn’t already have a song called “Crystalline”, so perfectly fitting a title it would have been. Indeed this largely sounds like it could have fitted onto that album, to the extent of sharing a few bits of melody with “It’s Not Up to You”. When you’re talking about one of the most gorgeous albums ever it’s not exactly a bad thing to have more of the same though, and it’s even easier to forgive the warm familiarity once you realise it’s partly a ruse to make the closing rhythmic supernova all the more thrilling.

Jonathan Bradley: I can see why Björk left this off Vespertine. It’s a bit abrasive for that album’s enveloping warmth, and the IDM (haven’t used that sequence of initials in a decade now) breakdown at the end would not have fit in with the record’s tone at all. As an archival b-side, “Crystalline” is a charming enough curio. Oh… what? It’s her new single?

Edward Okulicz: There’s no doubt that this song contains many elements of other great Björk songs, but even while it tinkles amiably and her voice commands the same attention it always has, it feels like spark and soul are missing. The sound of Vespertine is welcome, but the song itself isn’t as intimate, as captivating, as interesting, as playful or life-affirming. A Björk song without spirit is still one that’s interestingly-arranged and given a vocal performance of enormous presence, but “Crystalline” feels hollow and doesn’t feel like it repays repeat listens.

Anthony Easton: Björk by the numbers… so it’s weirdly beautiful in a kind of smoky elfish psychonaut crystalline power kind of way, but it lacks of the generosity of spirit and difficult ambition of her last few albums — it’s coasting, but about a kilometre in the air above the rest of us.

Rebecca Toennessen: I suppose if I were feeling more cynical, this would feel like Björk by rote, but even Björk by rote is pretty brilliant. I’m in love with this woman’s voice and love that such a tiny lady makes such big sounds.

Alfred Soto: The title epitomizes truth in advertising: the vocalist flies through synthesized whoops and chimes, none of which cohere into anything other than an immaculate collection of sounds.

Brad Shoup: I dunno, it sounds like she’s narrating the treatment for “Hyperballad” for everyone who missed it the first time.

Jonathan Bogart: We’re never going to get the dancefloor pixie of the mid-90s back, and that’s okay — we’re not getting the guitar-heroics Radiohead of the mid-90s back either. Like Thom & Co., Björk’s much more about process than she used to be and her devoted cult is still big enough to make her a Major Artist regardless — but she’s better at remaining compelling into middle age.

Michaela Drapes: Of course Björk had to invent an instrument — the gamelan/celeste mashup she’s calling the gameleste — to take us on a journey to some metaphorical Crystal Caves. Her return is so welcome that I can almost, almost pardon that unforgivable drum and bass breakdown (almost!). Especially since at the heart of this song lies a much-needed (and too often forgotten) message, reminding us all of the importance of mindful self-examination.

Hazel Robinson: I think it’s sort of reached the point where Björk’s path between “a terrible mess” and “a beautiful clash” has dwindled to a razor’s edge and unless — hang on. I’m listening to this for the third time and I’ve turned my speakers up and suddenly it’s the greatest level of ReZ that’s never been created, echoing and beating its path across punctuated slopes and snapped-off breath. Where the ridiculously aggressive d’n’b of the last minute felt strapped on for the first two listens, suddenly it explodes from a 5 to double that, gunning through the delicacy to its tough inner core.

Zach Lyon: Two points for every minute I can last before changing it to “Pretty Wings.”

6 Responses to “Björk – Crystalline”

  1. Highest score for least enthused blurbs since the dying days of Girls Aloud!

  2. But this one actually was more accessible than Medulla and Volta! Medulla was not accessible at all, and Volta sucked.

  3. My blurb promises a higher score than given, not sure how that happened.

  4. You know what else is accessible? A port-o-john.

  5. This isn’t bad, but if I’d managed to blurb it, I would have said something like what Jonathan Bradley did.

  6. Crystalline is a bit Bjork-by-numbers without being especially exciting. Cosmogony, however, is a bit Bjork-by-numbers while being utterly beautiful.