Due to its ambiguous definition, “pop music” can mean just about anything; and is often reliant on other, more distinctive genres around it to define its sound. This is one of many reasons why pop music in 2020 and pop music in 1990 have very few similarities. With accessibility being its one main component, what it is that artists make accessible is entirely dependent on them. And, if unable to adapt, pop artists can quickly fall out of favor. Björk, however, is a somewhat-rare exception; being both an inventive, artistic pop-artist, and one that’s constantly changing.
Beginning her piano studies at age six, and recording her first studio album at eleven, her impressive level and variety of musical development began very young. This would then only continue between 1979 and 1984, founding at least three bands, ranging from styles like punk, to jazz-fusion. Finally able to find a relatively-stable place within one of her projects, Björk managed as an important part of the alternative-rock group, the Sugarcubes, up until 1992. It’s not uncommon for solo-stars to have past success within larger bands, but a twenty-year process with numerous shifts isn’t the norm either.
Breaking boundaries once again, Björk somehow managed to follow-up on her catalog’s well-received reintroduction with an even-more-successful, and even-more-unique sophomore record. The first, Debut (1993), was a fresh shake-up of the everyday grunge aesthetic, opting for a more electronic, less guitar-heavy instrumentation, even including more niche choices like acoustic, traditional drums. With a delivery that isn’t as in-your-face as today’s radio selections, it’s easy to think of it as underwhelming. Her voice is the main subject of each song, rather than the music, making it appear raw and stripped-back from a quick glance, but it is everything but.
Post (1995) is very much like its predecessor in its style, but it includes an increased number of influences, and comes with a different approach; one that’s more confident and aggressive at points, while sinister at other. The opening track, “Army of Me,” is a perfect example of this. Behind her ominous, and sometimes-strained voice is a forceful combination of harsh beats and deep synths. Her lyrical subject is more self-projecting too, telling the audience to “stand up,” and “get to work,” while she “won’t sympathize anymore.” The next track, “Hyperballad,” falls into the intimate tendencies of Debut, but with a more futuristic and entrancing background, reminiscent of IDM groups like Autechre. The warped, high-pitched hums are not something heard in a standard pop ballad, or her prior release.
After the striking and stimulating technological features of the first two tracks, the subsequent duo brings back a slightly more conventional, but still-beautiful sound. “The Modern Things” enters with an industrial flare, but smooths itself out with soft synths, and many acoustic additions throughout the track. As it drags on, more percussion and string instruments are eventually shown-off. Then, “It’s Oh so Quiet,” is a funky jazz piece that could belong in a Woody Allen film. Transitioning from somber woodwinds to ear-blasting brass, it illustrates the back and forth of love: gorgeous romance and disappointing failure. Soon after, multiple songs follow in its footsteps with “You’ve Been Flirting Again,” and “Isobel” providing a serious-but-subdued tone, just without the more lively sections.
“Possibly Maybe” and “I Miss You,” are then the ultimate clash of Björk’s different approaches. The first is certainly more tame dynamically, but relies on the artificial sounds of radio feedback that push it multiple decades into the future. This becomes more literal with the repetitive, echoey murmur very similar to a variety of effects from C418’s record, Minecraft – Volume Alpha (2011). Then, “I Miss You” brings its own clicks, club beats, and even whistleblowing samples alongside very bouncy and vivacious bongos and trumpets.
Finally, the most harrowing section comes. The closing cuts, “Cover Me,” and “Headphones,” never even comes close to the pop-filled nature of the first half of the record. With stagnant, almost-muted dynamics, the main driver is Björk’s voice, much like a majority of the tracks off of Debut. However, the IDM elements; various layered vocal samples, bellowing synths, and distorted feedback; all scrap the intimacy to opt for a more creepy ambiance. The conclusion is a fitting finish for the experimental side of Björk and her music.
After twenty-five years of musical development, Björk’s Post manages to be a unique take on the pop formula. With every section of dance music; from house, to IDM, to EDM, to old-school jazz; she includes a laundry list of instrumental choices behind her beautiful voice. The record manages to hold onto the accessibility necessary to label it “pop,” but doesn’t fall into the derivative traps that many of its peers do. It’s hard to think of a popular music record with such a quiet-yet-disturbing finish, and that helps it still leave a lasting impression.