Björk – Mouth’s Cradle

I have been listening to this album pretty regularly since I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift. As with Bjork’s other albums, there is an abundance of positively heart-stopping melodic material. It may be in the bac ground, as the production has obscured it in the past.

As you may know via the press surrounding this album that it is almost entirely made up of human voices. Quite a feat for those involved (arranging the material, and for the producers to assemble it into a cohesive musical expression.) There are reams of press about the whole of the record — I want to spend a moment thinking about one song in particular.

Why it is buried twelve tracks in, I will never know. “Possibly Maybe” was 8 cuts into Post, and the same goes for “Alarm Call” on Homogenic. I see a pattern.

Some of the intervals and voicings of the Icelandic Choir remind me of 13th Century Parisian master of organum, Perotin. The simplicity of the grouping and alternation between spare chords gives it that feeling of no beginning and no end. Polyphony quickly gives way to the Mark Bell glitch production. Distortion (intentional, I would guess) from production in Bjork’s vocal is almost emulated in the extended vocal (or ultra-natural?) techniques of the incredible Tanya Tagaq. Rahzel gives the song a solid boom-bap beat with serious forward motion. A swing, even.

Aside from the singular tone of her voice, Bjork has always caught my ear from the inventiveness of her phrasing. She knows when to turn the faucet on and off. On Vespertine and Medulla she has reined in some of the more fantastic flights that took in the past. I enjoy them, but I must say that this less bombastic direction has allowed her to grow, to develop her instrument. It’s much more easily accomplished when the volume isn’t stuck on 11. That doesn’t always come naturally. She writes the words with such care and forethought as to how and where they will fit in the final expression, that it lays on my chest like a cinder block. For example:

these teeth / are / a ladder up to / his mouth

Another example:

if you want / up to the mouth / the mouth’s cradle

Those couplets paired with the production and hip-hop swing have me bobbing my head like the latest Neptunes production in the club. Mark Bell keeps the song buzzing with bits that Rahzel and Tagaq have created, and the Icelandic Choir lends a harmonic root to Bjork’s flights.

The song rachets up the dissonance near its end. It sounds as if she is going to a bridge, but, not being one beholden to AABA structures, that dissonance ramps up and soon the song closes. It closes with some surprisingly political words:

i need a shelter to / build an altar away from / all the osamas and bushes