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Reviews: Björk: Medulla (Limited Edition)

Reviews: 5

Review by LC November 29, 2004 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Review: Stereo/Multichannel SA-CD

Audio Systems:
Stereo – Sony ES, Art Audio, Reference 3A, Cardas (see User Details)
Multichannel – Denon, Marantz, Bryston, Paradigm Reference (HT system)

Normally I review music/performance and sonics in separate sections, but this doesn’t really seem possible with Björk’s new album, a strange project even by Björkian standards, but one that I’ve liked better every time I’ve listened to it. Consisting entirely of voices and a few sparse electronics (and one piano), Medúlla succeeds with slick production, excellent collaboration with a variety of international artists, real originality, and the force of Björk’s famously enigmatic personality.

The Medúlla experience begins when one consults the fold-out booklet/poster, most of which is written in near-inscrutable, vaguely runic typeface – glossy black on slightly-less-glossy black. One then enters a world of the human voice, and I will say right out that the multichannel program is excellent, and I would speculate that Medúlla was probably conceived and created for surround sound, although the stereo program is no disappointment. Björk sings passionately as ever. The subtle engineering presents her flexible voice with a variety of tones and textures, even aside from a few obvious special vocal effects. For instance, her voice has a (mildly irritating) slightly “cracked” quality in the short solo “Show Me Forgiveness” and its expanded continuation “Vökuró,” a startling naturalness in “Öll Birtan,” and a great sheen/reverb-type effect in the infectious “Who Is It.” Sometimes she seems “right there,” and then it’s like a curtain you didn’t even perceive is dropped and she becomes even more immediate.

The musical content ranges from pop to ballad to vaguely Orthodox medieval to dance, but none of it is really classifiable like this. In the end, it’s all Björk. A few superficially radio-ready songs such as “Who Is It,” "Oceania," and “Mouth’s Cradle” use grooves built up out of elements of voice that can only be discerned and appreciated with fairly careful listening. And the overarching “point” of the album seems to be a celebration of the expressive diversity of the human voice, for example in the exaggerated breathing in a song like “Submarine,” the impossibly precise percussion in the beat-driven songs, and the unnerving moans and growls contrasting with the calm of the lone piano in “Ancestors.” Most of these sounds have a disembodied quality to them, floating, shifting, blending, coalescing, and multiplying in a black but benevolent void. The album pivots on the searching, hypnotic “Desired Constellation” and ends with the playful and partially successful “Triumph of a Heart,” which is really the first time that I actually said to myself: “This sounds like people making weird noises.”

As much of a sonic adventure as this album is, especially in multichannel, the overall impression is still one of musical adventure, and of the diverse, even elemental, power of voice. One is reminded of the musical/mimetic traditions of rural Tuva. While succeeding as (broadly speaking) pop music, and only rarely succumbing to pretentiousness, Medúlla underscores how fundamentally human it is to make music. Throughout, Björk sustains her characteristic directness and authenticity, perhaps especially in her native Icelandic. A solid recommendation for this genuinely original, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally satisfying project.

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Review by OM May 19, 2005 (12 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Björk’s Medúlla is without any doubt my favourite SACD. This is for multiple reasons, but the single greatest one is the surround mix. I take multi-channel music seriously and have a system that reflects this (check my profile for a description of the system this was reviewed on). As non-acoustic recordings go, the surround mix on Medúlla is second to none. Another reason is that aside from a single piano on one track, the entire album is composed of human voices. This choice has resulted in the creation of something utterly unique.

In undertaking the substantial task of reviewing Medúlla I decided to sit down and listen to it in its entirety while taking notes. By the time I had finished listening I had no less than three pages of scrawled description. I’m not sure of the best way to present this information. I’ve decided to offer a few quotes, in the interest of giving you a sense of what I wrote about:

“Track 3. Where is the Line: Phasing on voices in all channels, rapid blasts rolling into the surrounds. ‘Ha-Ha’ breathing following by more phasing and a strange gate effect that snaps between all speakers. A choir surrounds you repeating the chorus, echoing Björk.”

“Track 6. Who Is It: Björk comes in hitting a high note on the CC, followed by FL then FR and all channels hold. In comes deep bass from a human voice. Enter beat boxing ‘trick-tick-tack’ establishing melody sounding almost like IDM. Björk harmonizes with herself over the melody. Pulses over both my shoulders complement main vocal in CC. Ends with just IDM beat in CC and guttural breathing.”

“Track 7. Oceania: Very unusual breathing in surrounds and harmonizing from all channels. No rhythm at all, just breathing. Vocal ‘noodling’ in LS. Her voice rising up out of it is sweet relief from the near chaos.”

“Track 12. Mouths Cradle: Sounds like a keyboard ‘beep-bonking’. There is an odd phasing of multiple Björks across speakers and through me. A clear solo voice of Björk is inside my head. Unobtrusive beat-boxing creates a strong rhythmic drive to accompany the main vocal. Voices are constantly popping in and out. The sound is never cluttered and everything is distinct and ‘in the right place’. It is breathtakingly complex yet built around such a simple and catchy melody. It is inconceivable to me that this could exist in a two-channel mix.”

Medúlla is a symphony written for the vocal chord. Voices emerge from multiple channels staggered in time, creating an indescribable human polyphony. It is the most engaging recording I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. It is difficult for me to speak of a ‘soundstage’ when discussing this album (or any well mixed non-acoustic surround recording for that matter). There is no stage. You are perfectly enveloped by a 360-degree field of sound. In some non-acoustic surround mixes the mix engineer obviously views the surround channels as “Effects Channels” and uses them as such. When the surround mix for Medúlla, it is apparent that there was virtually no distinction made between front and back. Björk is not on a stage in front of you. She is all around you. Sometimes she isn’t even in the room with you. She is in your head and it is absolutely convincing. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear someone else’s voice in my head.

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Review by vonwegen August 5, 2005 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I don't have a whole lot to add to the previous reviews of this, but as with Nine Inch Nails "The Downward Spiral", this almost all-vocal SA-CD is an intriguing mix of high and low-fidelity tracks used for a very unconventional listening experience: whenever you are tired of your 'normal' music genres, just pop this one in your player. This really is best heard in 5.1 surround.

Björk is a true original who resembles , at times, a (much) more palatable Yoko Ono in her multi-layered vocal exercises--which these really are; you really shouldn't call them songs in a conventional sense.

Overall, a sometimes lovely, at other times unsettling listening experience that challanges listeners unfamiliar with her earlier work to expand their musical horizons.

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Review by Lucabeer April 11, 2010 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Be careful: the European print of this SACD (the limited digipack edition) is faulty. The 2 channel SACD layer has a pressing problem with tracks 3-4, in which from approximately 00m:50s the same music from the first two tracks is replicated together with the correct one (the result is, obviously, confusing and very nasty).

I experienced this problem myself, then I found on Google ( that many other people had found the same. I returned the European version, and got the Japanese one instead. Pricier, but free of problems and with a nice extra track ("Komid").

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Review by progboy June 1, 2012
Performance:   Sonics:  
Bjork's Medulla is definitely an acquired taste album ! I have loved some of Bjork's stuff and others less so...kind of hit or miss for me personally but based on the glowing reviews here I decided to pick it up and will admit that it is an intense but rewarding listening experience. The sound quality is pretty awesome with some very distinct and well defined tones and sounds. The speaker separation is pretty amazing here too offering deep vocal harmonies and tones.
No question she wrote this album as a modern day vocal symphony as such and is in true experimentation mode on Medulla. I don't hint this is an album for everyone and suggest you hear a few samples before u buy it. Fans of Kate Bush and Jane Sibbery will likely love this album.
For me I am growing to appreciate this album more and more over time.
Atmospheric , dark and foreboding.............very artistic album from a musician not concerned about sales!

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