Björk is one of the most influential artists to have left a mark on contemporary music.
The diverse range of artists and creative figures who she has inspired over the years continues to grow and evolve because of the various incarnations her creative identity has existed in throughout her career. She has created new and innovative dimensions with every album or project.
To trace the universes and worlds she has created and inhabited across her catalogue, we have selected eight landmark tracks which define certain stages and demonstrate the unwavering quality of her output which has existed since day one.
Big Time SensualityDebut, 1993
Ironically, 1993’s Debut was not Bjork’s actual debut as an artist (she first appeared in punk supergroup KUKL and Icelandic sextet The Sugarcubes). Big Time Sensuality is Bjork’s reaction to the urban landscape of 1990s London and its thriving house scene. The song’s video, directed by Stephane Sednaoul, pictures Bjork dancing on a truck throughout New York City, and was shown on heavy rotation on MTV upon its release, helping propel her into worldwide acclaim.
I Miss YouPost, 1995
I Miss You begins with the pretence of missing someone without having met them. The video shows a semi-animated Bjork, surrounded by a world of Stimpy-inspired cartoons, and arguably best embodies the feel of her early body of work. In it, sexuality is given a childishly innocent twist whereby miniature cartoons dance cheerfully in breast-shaped condoms. An effervescent track that lays the foundations for some of the most vibrant songs of her career.
Following a distressing incident with a mentally unstable fan, Bjork left London for Spain where she recorded 1997’s Homogenic. The album, a haunting piece of brooding Russian strings and machine gun beats, is a much darker take on the singer’s previous works – It’s Oh So Quiet, Hyper Ballad and so on. Masked by masterful arrangements and cavernous echoes, the record seems almost directly influenced by the sounds of IDM artists Autechre, Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, who were all thriving in the 1990s musical landscape. Pluto is perhaps the most techno-inspired track off the album, featuring an all-pervasive, mechanic two step beat that leaves Bjork running headfirst into sonic oblivion.
All Is Full of LoveHomogenic, 1997
If Pluto resembles the destruction of Bjork’s sonic and physical landscape, then All is Full of Love is the careful reassembling of it. The cathartic-sounding track has been described as ‘birds coming out of a thunderstorm’, and has been likened to the innocent feeling of seeing the world for the first time. “All is full of love / All around you,” rings Bjork’s voice voyeuristically in a beat free echo chamber. The song embodies a theme that will resurface many times more in her career; it is a love that is complete and full-bodied and that is not limited to humans, but instead, extends to everything, the natural world and the cosmos.
The release of 2001 album Vespertine came as a shock to critics who thought that it lacked the sonic ambush of its predecessors. But what it lacked in instrumental bravado, it gained in textural intricacy, achieving an overall feel of spacial airiness. Cocoon takes the back road through the singer’s crackled netherworld of gentle microbeats and organic synths, into the fragile wake of a delicate falsetto which recites a stream of consciousness, “he slides inside / half awake, half asleep / we faint back / into sleephood”. The sound is nothing new but then again, it doesn’t have to be. Presumably a reflection of events passed, the track is undeniably beautiful.
Where is the LineMedulla, 2004
An album consisting purely of human voice, Medulla punched what Vespertine could only swallow. Where is the Line, a collaboration between Bjork and Mike Patton, is arguably Bjork’s most experimental track since 1995’s Post. Using Patton’s lower register – which manifests itself as a throaty growl, the track paints a fleshy and powerful picture of the power of the human voice. On a production level, it lays the groundwork for a generation of artists like Arca and FKA Twigs.
Like a growing crystal, Bjork’s voice swells and spreads across the musical landscape she lays for herself in 2011 album Biophilia. Potentially her most ambitious album to date, Biophilia takes its influences from nature, the ecosystem and the cosmos and pulls into orbit the parallels between humans and nature. Single Crystalline takes the idea of organic growth and deconstructs it, literally. Squarepusher beats squelch trigger happily against a backdrop of otherworldly harmonies. The result is stunning.
Black LakeVulnicura, 2015
Bjork has always excelled in using natural imagery to illustrate raw, human emotion. Black Lake, an eleven minute-long looped composition from 2015 album Vulnicura, shows this with heart rendering clarity. “Our love was my womb / But our bond has broken,” sings Bjork, her vulnerability palpitating with each breath. The track is an expression of the pain the singer went through during her separation from partner Matthew Barney, and the album as a whole is the acknowledgment of this. Using motifs from the Icelandic landscape, changing states of matter from solid to liquid, pain and rebirth, Black Lake and more broadly, Vulnicura, shows the artist as scorned. In pain but regenerating.
For more on Björk head to Björk: In Focus, an exploration and celebration of our September cover star