Björk has described her 10th studio album, Fossora, as being “about bass, heavy bottom-end…and punchy sub.” But despite the suggestion that she might be returning to dance music, or something like it, the closest thing to clubby here is the adoption of gabber, the percussive hardcore techno subgenre defined by its furious assault of distorted kickdrums.
You hear the influence on the album’s opening track, “Atopos,” which features Kasimyn of Indonesian electronic duo Gabber Modus Operandi. Björk and her collaborator curiously tweak gabber’s typical breakneck tempo so that it almost resembles reggaeton, at least until a final intense stretch that speed-ramps the song’s beat and ping-pongs it against a drunk-sounding sextet of bass clarinets. Elsewhere, the brooding “Victimhood” sets a bossa nova beat adrift—for a little while at least—amid dark, cascading synths, until it’s eventually displaced by more bass clarinets playing a countermelody and chaotically arranged choral vocals.
All of this is to say that any appropriations of familiar music forms on Fossora are, at best, fleeting. The Icelandic iconoclast’s compositional sense is as unbound as ever, her songs amoeba-like organisms transfiguring from one second to the next across the album, an in line with a logic that’s defiantly hers alone, both for better and worse.
It’s useful to map out some thematic terrain in order to understand what the increasingly pop-averse Björk is up to. For one, Fossora (a made-up feminization of the Latin word for “dig”) is her fungal album, which means not just toadstools and psychedelics, but the thoughts and feelings that begin to creep in when you’re rooted in place. These are thoughts very much tied to the album’s pandemic-era recording. And the response is valuing interconnectedness, specifically the role of matriarch—a preoccupation emphasized here on a pair of songs dedicated to the memory of Björk’s mother, who died in 2018, and by having both of her children, Sindri Eldon and Isadora Bjarkardottir Barney, appear as featured vocalists on the album.
“Ancestress” conjures up moving, uncharacteristically concrete memories (“When I was a girl, she sang for me/In falsetto lullabies with sincerity”) alongside more inscrutable musings (“You see with your own eyes/But hear with your mother’s”). The song opens with a sumptuous orchestral crescendo that recalls the most dramatic passages of 1997’s Homogenic but soon settles into a more subdued bed of sawing strings and chiming bells, with Björk’s familiar, halting delivery occasionally giving way to snatches of melody. Even with the gabber beats that eventually infiltrate the mix, “Ancestress” is one of the most accessible songs on Fossora, not just for its mortality-confronting emotional narrative, but its more recognizable song structure.
The album’s other highlights get mileage…
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