A trip through the flipside of Björk’s career
Björk’s voluminous catalogue contains thousands of curios for playlist fanatics.
I am one those fanatics, an obsessive Bjork collector, endlessly shuffling my thirty-year compendium of Bjork-related tracks into various combinations, or stacking my complete collection of physical releases into increasingly idiosyncratic order.
In doing so, I know only too well that her discography can be sequenced in such a way to make any argument whatsoever about her work as a composer and producer. Bjork as studio genius, classical composer, dancefloor junkie, folk singer, remix devotee.
But it’s not just me.
During our interview for the release of Utopia, broadcast on this week’s Fat Planet, it became clear just how pivotal playlists are in Björk’s life.
“When I was a kid, I would make little compilation cassettes for my journey to school”, she says. “Or I would carry my vinyl records around and, in the food breaks, I would put some records on.”
By the time she was forming punk bands as a teenager, she was passing tapes around to highlight the directions she wanted to take.
“I’m still the same, I really like making playlists. For example, I might put together a playlist of songs that are euphoric, all back-to-back, moving in completely different directions, or putting back-to-back songs that have a lot of silence in them.”
More recently, she has found and attracted key collaborators (such as Arca, Rabit and The Haxan Cloak) through playlists, mixes and DJ sets, and rediscovered tracks that became pivotal on Utopia by diving through her archive of curated MP3 collections.
She tops this off on Utopia with the track Blissing Me, the ultimate ode to playlist lovers and “music nerds”, “sending each other MP3s, falling in love to a song.”
“I love stuff like that” she says, “and I would be very proud and honoured if people did that to my music. I do look at my songs as possible components for playlists.”
An invitation like that is too good to pass up, and – to celebrate the release of Utopia - it therefore seems fitting to build my own playlist, one that takes an intentionally subjective slice though Björk’s career.
Beautifully biased, made by one music nerd for any other, and reflecting her standing as of one of the most original musicians of our time.
Hear the full Björk interview on Fat Planet this Wednesday night
Tappi Tíkarrass – 'London' (1983)
By 17, Björk had not only co-founded punk band Tappi Tíkarrass, she also had a solo album under her belt (recorded when she was just twelve years old) and had formed a flurry of teen punk bands, including the wonderfully titled Spit And Snot.
Tappi Tíkarrass only released an EP and an album, but their live shows and promo videos can still be found online.
KUKL – ‘Outward Flight‘ (1986)
After the split of Tappi Tíkarrass, many of its members regrouped under the KUKL name; releasing two post-punk albums between 1984 and 1986. This track comes from the travel-themed album Holidays in Europe (The Naughty Nought), released on a label owned by renowned English anarcho-punks Crass.
The Elgar Sisters – ‘Sidasta Eg’ (1984)
Björk recorded a full album’s worth of material with fellow KUKL member, Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson, in the duo named after English composer Edward Elgar. Only three tracks ever saw the light of day, released as B-Sides to singles from the Debut album.
The Sugarcubes – ‘Deus’ (1988)
It was via The Sugarcubes that Björk rose to international attention.
Their debut single ‘Birthday’ was well-loved by the UK press, and in particular by John Peel, with the track taking the top spot in his annual Festival Fifty chart.
The band’s catalogue was arguably a series of diminishing returns; with the exception of the 1992 hit single, presciently titled ‘Hit’.
808 State – ‘Ooops’ (feat. Björk) (1991)
Prior to the breakup of The Sugarcubes, Björk prototyped her solo career with two tracks on the 1991 album Ex-El from Manchester techno producers 808 State.
The band’s Graham Massey later went on to co-write and co-produce the single ‘Army Of Me’ from Post.
Björk – ‘Anchor Song' (Black Dog Mix) (1993)
It was through her remix selections that Björk flexed her collaborative muscles, calling on names both well-known and underground to rework her catalogue.
The Debut period alone spawned remixes from Underworld, Andy Weatherall, Masters At Work and (oddly) Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall. This Black Dog remix, featuring members of Plaid, signals more experimental work to come.
Nearly God – ‘Yoga’ (feat. Björk) (1996)
The post-Debut glow proved that the world was Björk’s oyster; releasing the theme song ‘Play Dead’ from the film Young Americans, co-writing Bedroom Story for Madonna, and collaborating with one-time partner Tricky on two tracks for Maxinquaye follow-up, Nearly God.
Björk & Evelyn Glennie – ‘My Spine’ (1996)
A unique collaboration from the Telegram remix project, one of a number of pieces recorded with percussionist Evelyn Glennie. A second piece, ‘Oxygen’, saw the light of day on Glennie’s Greatest Hits compilation, but the sessions otherwise remain unreleased.
Björk – ‘Bachelorette’ (RZA Remix) (1997)
Although not the strongest remix from RZA, nor the best from the period, it does signal how quickly her influence and inspiration spread beyond the European electronic music community.
There is a full session of unreleased work recorded with RZA and Wu-Tang Clan that she recently described as “magic”, whist also intimating that it would never see the light of day.
Björk – ‘Amphibian’ (1999)
Having directed the Broadway musical-style video for ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, Spike Jonze called upon Björk to return the favour with this track recorded for the Being John Malkovich soundtrack.
Jonze also directed two further videos for Björk, 2002’s ‘It’s In Our Hands’ and ‘Triumph Of A Heart’ in 2005.
Björk – ‘Batabid’ (2001)
An instrumental Vespertine-era B-Side, replete with beautiful, minimal electronics.
Utopia co-producer Arca has flagged it as one of the back-catalogue highlights that acted as a touchstone for their more recent collaborations.
Björk – ‘Generous Palmstroke’ (2001)
Another Vespertine B-Side, co-written with harpist Zeena Parkins, sounding for all the world like an early demo for work found later in Vulnicura and Utopia.
Björk – ‘Submarine’ (2004)
The double-header of Vespertine and Medulla clearly signalled a career trajectory that was steering away from pop into more experimental territory, borne out even more so in the soundtrack records Selmasongs and Drawing Restraint 9.
This minimal Medulla track features a unique vocal from the legendary Robert Wyatt.
Björk – ‘Ambergis March’ (2005)
Another Utopia touchstone, from what is perhaps Björk’s most difficult record, the soundtrack for her then-husband Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9.
Björk – ‘Vertebrae By Vertebrae’ (2007)
Volta is perhaps Björk’s last pop record, with tracks such as ‘Earth Intruders’ and ‘Innocence’ signalling a brief return to the dancefloor.
This album cut is the bridge to her later works, favouring jazz and classical compositional approaches over verse-chorus anthems.
Björk – 'The Comet Song' (2010)
It seems fitting that, when it came to make a movie featuring the adorable Swedish cartoon characters The Moomins, it would be Björk that put her hand up to write the theme song.
A delightful side-step regression that acted as a charity single.
Björk – ‘Crystalline’ (Omar Souleyman Version) (2011)
Biophilia was another remix-heavy era for Björk (31 official remixes by my count), featuring artist such as Death Grips, Hudson Mohawke and Matthew Herbert.
The trio of mixes featuring Syria’s Omar Souleyman are the clear highlights, with Björk’s vocals weaving perfectly through Souleyman’s Middle Eastern electronics.
Björk – ‘Stonemilker’ (Vulnicura Strings Version) (2015)
The Björk we heard on 2015’s Vulnicura was already exposed and vulnerable. However, the Vulnicira Strings album released a few months later, removed all of the beats and electronics and added new string instruments to deliver Björk's only acoustic studio album.
A perfect delivery vehicle for work of harrowing beauty.
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