Saturday, 12 April 2014

50 songs to take to my grave - #7: Crystalline

I loved the Sugarcubes. It was Simon Greetham who introduced me to them (along with various other indie bands) back when I was 16 and in my only full year at college. Birthday was, and still is, a moment of total wonder and delight, and their debut album was awash with oddness and intrigue, yet the songs just glistened with fun and energy.

I never quite felt the same way about Björk's solo material. I suppose the problem I had was that she went all electronic and dancey and I've never been into that sort of stuff. Every so often she'd do something that would grab my attention, but nowt that made me feel as excited as I did when I first heard Birthday.

At least, not until a couple years ago when Crystalline came out.

I can't be sure where I first heard it, but I think it might have been on the radio (BBC 6 Music, of course). It all seemed rather understated, but then Björk has always been a master at that - less is more. The first four minutes are driven by the rhythmic tones of a Gameleste, one of several instruments Björk had made specially for her - a modified celesta made to not only sound like gamelan instruments, but to also enable it to be played remotely via an iPad! And it is this clever combination of minimalism and electronic wizardry that ultimately lured me in. Björk sings of crystals growing in nature, personifying the process by metaphorically relating a similar process in the growth of human relationships. The whole thing teases with plenty of little bleeps and beats dropping in subtly without ever really taking off, but the fizzing anticipation does eventually give way to one of the most unexpected climaxes of any song I've ever heard.

From nowhere, we are ambushed by a rambunctious rabble of drum & bass beats that blast us into the middle of Björk's little cosmos at hyperspeed. They shouldn't be there, they don't belong there - but by god they sure as hell are going to be heard, and no one's getting out of here without their senses being brutally assaulted. To put it bluntly - it's fucking nuts!

It is an example of Björk's genius - proving that safety first isn't an option when you can arouse such stirrings in your audience by throwing the unexpected - and downright wrong - at them instead. Crystalline - and its parent album 'Biophilia' - is also a rare example of electronic music that excites me. It has an energy that awakens those parts of me that shut down when I hear electronics dominant in a song. But then it's Björk, so anything's possible.


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