Reviewed by Stephen Wollaston (aka Santoshan)
I have been a fan of Björk’s incredible singing abilities and creative compositions for some years, especially since her crossover album Vespertine, which signalled a change in direction from predominantly Techno music to establishing a newer style of compositions and sounds. On the album before Vespertine, Homogenic, Björk began to experiment with more than just electronic wizardry and drums and included much more of an array of instruments in her compositions. And since Vesperine, she has included traditional choirs in her songs and music, which have become almost impossible to categorise, except perhaps Björkian.
Of interest to GreenSpirit members is how Nature-centred some of Björk’s works have been with song titles such as Nature is Ancient and her ground-breaking seventh album Biophilia (meaning “Love of Nature”, a term coined by the American biologist Edward O Wilson), which explored relationships between music and natural phenomena and used non-traditional musical instruments. Additionally, Björk has occasionally recorded Icelandic folk songs, including one on the new album Fossora (a made-up feminization of the Latin word for “dig” coined by Björk).
It therefore perhaps comes as no surprise to see Björk’s latest release including earth and fungal elements, with songs and music called Sorrowful Soil, Fungal City, and Mycelia (a music track that uses the name for fungal threads that form colonies to breakdown dead matter). A line from the title track mentions how “her nerves spread like wings at mycelium speed into the atmosphere”. The Guardian’s Kitty Empire speculated how it was “only a matter of time before Björk, that great musical nature writer, worked her way round to the living world’s weirdest kingdom: the life-from-death forms of fungi”.
The album is edgier than Björk’s last release, Utopia, although some harsh percussion overshadows songs in places, and there’s a haunting discordant music track, Trölla-Gabba (meaning “just strolling” according to one blogger who looked for a translation) that doesn’t add much to the album. Yet, there is an abundance of beauty in much of the instrumentation, choral arrangements and Björk’s singing, such as the gongs and strings on Ancestress, and flutes on Allow. Some tracks are tributes to Björk’s homoeopathic hippie-activist mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who passed in 2018 after prolonged illness – which partly explains some of the album’s darker moments and is a strong influence underlying much of the album – including, in part, the closing song Her Mother’s House, written by Björk and her daughter Ísadóra, which is both touching and delightful with some sublime backing vocals and cor anglaise playing.
Although Vespertine still remains my overall favourite album by the artist, there is much in Fossora that I deeply like because of its richness of multi-layered textures that work incredibly well in many places. In some ways it comes across to me as a mature synthesis of various styles and experimentations from the artist’s 21st century output of work. And as always within this period, the artwork for the album is an elaborate and important feature and was designed by Björk. Overall, a highly recommended album!