Sep 30, 2022
By Austin Saalman
Fossora—the ungrammatical feminine version of the Latin term for “digger”—finds Icelandic art pop icon Björk’s roots clinging firmly to the earth as she advances her signature wintry avant-pop soundscapes, exploring concerns of identity, mourning, and the longing for connection in an increasingly isolated world. Far heavier than 2017’s airy Utopia, Björk’s 10th studio album reflects the singer’s emotional state as society navigates its third year of a particularly destructive global pandemic, the disjointed structures of its tracks speaking to the cultural frenzy felt, its juxtaposition of smooth baroque and often abrasive electropop the sonic embodiment of the confusion felt, and damage done. Björk’s releases have always been deeply personal to her own experiences, and Fossora is no different. The album is a fascinating product of an already tumultuous decade, and one senses that great amounts of labor and expertise were applied to its meticulous composition. That said, Fossora is highly experimental, even by Björk’s standards, and is therefore less accessible than its most recent predecessors Utopia and Vulnicura. The intoxicating bursts of intrinsic enchantment felt throughout previous releases are infrequent here, though it can be argued that Björk has set out to do more than merely dazzle on Fossora.
Opening track “Atopos” finds Björk reflecting upon life in and after lockdown, asking immediately, “Are these not just excuses to not connect?” This remains among the album’s stronger cuts, its orchestral lilt undercut with a chilly industrial beat, Björk denouncing the current climate of volatility and division, declaring, “Our union is stronger than us/Hope is a muscle/That allows us to connect.” Subsequently, the stunning “Ovule”—Fossora’s masterpiece and one of Björk’s finest songs of the past 10 years—unleashes a confessional rush of tender introspection, returning the singer to the triumphant heights of 2004’s “Who Is It.” Here, Björk sings, “When I was a girl/I felt love was a building/I marched towards/But deadly demonic divorces demolished/The ideal,” before returning herself to the grasp of passion, celebrating two “lovemaking avatars/In a shell.” “Ovule” alone renders Fossora worth the listen. Other standouts include vocal pop number “Sorrowful Soil” and the devastating “Ancestress,” the former a eulogy and the latter an epitaph for her late mother. Elsewhere, the flute driven “Allow” is stunning, showcasing Björk’s abilities as a lyricist in such lines as, “I made a moon/A translucent one/Imma put it out and let it out for someone/Like you.” The clarinet-centered whimsy of “Fungal City” is also moving, especially when paired with its occasional bursts of weeping strings. This track, above all others, successfully embodies the nature and aesthetic of Fossora, the entirety of which is essentially a fungi-flecked plunge into Björk’s emotional and creative underworld, a subterranean realm of pining, sadness, and inspiration.
Fossora’s strongest tracks remind the listener that Björk still possesses the potential for artistic brilliance, allowing her to flourish in such moments. Meanwhile, other inclusions, such as brief instrumentals “Mycelia” and “Trölla-Gabba,” as well as Björk’s interpretation of Icelandic folk song “Fagurt Er í Fjörðum,” feel less imperative and are unlikely to inspire more than a couple of listens. “Victimhood,” “Freefall,” and the title track are also middling compared to stronger entries and lack the punch of Björk’s best work. Again, one must appreciate the apparent labor behind even these less remarkable cuts, but they are without the appeal of “Ovule” and “Allow.”
Ultimately, Fossora is another step in Björk’s perpetual evolution as an artist. The album’s artwork is remarkable—as is the artwork of every Björk release—and Björk herself remains as charismatic and creative as ever. Still, Fossora is less engaging than Utopia, Vulnicura, and Biophilia, and except for “Ovule,” “Ancestress,” and “Allow,” cannot compete with her 1990s and early 2000s output. However, it is worth a listen, as the experience is strikingly intimate, often intriguing, and largely natural in its rhythm. As Björk mentioned in a recent interview, there is an elemental quality to Fossora, its rough edges and sometimes bitter taste being synonymous with those of the earth. This seems like a meaningful explanation of the album’s challenging style, though new listeners are less likely than devotees to accept such a challenge in the long run. (www.bjork.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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