My first encounter with Björk was in 1993 when I saw the Michel Gondry directed video for Human Behavior. I remember feeling instant recognition--beyond a physical resemblance, this was a woman who was unstudied and raw, completely creative with a childlike bravery for expressing that.
I later learned that Björk composes while walking and intentionally matches the beat of the human footstep, which lends a comforting familiarity to even her strangest songs. She identifies with the volatility of the Icelandic climate saying that she often feels conflicted between wanting absolute quiet and wanting to communicate "900%." While places like Norway may rival the beauty of Iceland, the constant movement of the pulsing island country has an energy and mystery second to none. Her music contains so much of what I love about the country, the unnamable qualities especially.
She's often a punchline, accused of being esoteric, but my visit to her "mid-career retrospective" at MoMA confirmed that I'm no where close to alone in my veneration. Her lyrics tend to be immediate and deceptively simple, especially so on her latest work, Vulnicura. The emotion resides in her primal delivery. Watching the video for Lionsong opened old wounds with these simple words: "maybe he will come out of this loving me, maybe he won't."
I had to laugh as well. 50 this year, I don't think she's ever been more beautiful, a thought I had again while watching the 10-minute long Black Lake (I sat through it twice, it was so good). Björk has always been a holistic performer. The visual components of every release are just as important as the music, and this was no exception. Delicate and heartrending, it's her simplest but most affecting work, using Iceland as a backdrop in a way that recalls one of one of my favorite videos, Who Is it? Celebratory and effervescent, the dirge of Black Lake is its powerful corollary.
My friend Hardeep Phull reviewed the exhibit for the NY Post and wondered why anyone would pay money to see what they could find on YouTube for free. He isn't the only critic who has panned the retrospective, most of them calling it slight. It was, but as a megafan, it was still a thrill to be amongst iconic Alexander McQueen dresses and notebooks full of scrawled lyrics. The bluetooth technology developed for the exhibit was fun as well and fostered an effortless, organic experience. There were tactile thrills throughout--a rumbling room and a cave covered in ersatz 3-D stalactites and stalagmites for the screening of Black Lake. The last bit of the exhibit is a large cinema with cushions scattered on the ground and a 50 ft. screen playing her formidable archive of collaborative music videos. I relished this chance to see and hear my favorite artist with a befitting sound system. The black box theater provided total immersion, a sensation never offered by ubiquitous iDevices. I left elated, elevated and more devoted than ever.