Icelandic artist Björk’s love for the world blooms on her tenth studio album “Fossora.” Arriving five years after her last album “Utopia,” this release finds her experimenting once again with new sounds, concepts and collaborators.
Dubbed her “mushroom album,” “Fossora” is a word invented by Björk herself that stems from the Latin word for “digger.” This descriptor holds true; the soundscapes conjured on this album evoke the feeling of wandering through an overgrown forest. In typical Björk fashion, she handles the majority of, well, everything. Of course, she sings – her thick Icelandic accent and expressive vocal style has made her one of my favorite voices in music. But she also composes, produces and spearheads art direction.
If you are looking for catchy hooks or an easy listening experience, the opening track “Atopos” will direct you elsewhere. The song features reggaeton-inspired drums, and if it wasn’t for the six dissonant bass clarinets and Björk’s off-kilter vocal melodies, it would almost be danceable. Regal horns and complex drum programming back the following song “Ovule,” a dedication to putting past traumas aside and beginning new relationships with a clear state of mind.
“Sorrowful Soil” and “Ancestress” are odes to Björk’s mother who passed away in 2018. The former is a powerful a cappella boasting one of the best vocal performances on the album. On the other hand, “Ancestress” acts as a stream of consciousness, an epitaph made even more potent by featuring Björk’s son, Sindri Eldon.
“Victimhood” is a foreboding track that feels like trudging waist-deep through swamp water, with only its soft downtempo beat serving as a guide. “Allow” is a much-needed breather; fluttering flutes and swirling vocal harmonies from both Björk and Emilie Nicolas elevate listeners above the treetops. It provides an excellent contrast to the oppressive fog of “Victimhood.”
Throughout “Fossora,” Björk likens the beauty of others to the beauty of nature. “Trunks bursting through the moss from our love,” she sings on “Fungal City.” On “Freefall,” she portrays love as a cosmic-scale event: “our solar systems coalesced, softly surrendered into itself, formed a nebulous cloud.”
Although “Fossora” covers a lot of sonic ground, the lack of catchy choruses and the overwhelmingly persistent atmosphere can leave listeners tired by the end. Thankfully, two of the strongest songs on the album provide an excellent finish. The title track is an uncanny combination of whimsical woodwinds with hardcore EDM percussion. Meanwhile, the closer “Her Mother’s House” is a stunning ballad where Björk and her daughter, Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney, play off each other to great effect.
Decades into her musical career, “Fossora” marks a very strong release from Björk. It borrows elements from prior albums such as the a cappella of “Medúlla” and the jittery percussion and nature imagery of “Biophilia” but in keeping its own identity, surpasses both. Strong themes of love and motherhood feel right at home among the woodland soundscapes Björk conjures. “Fossora” was well worth the wait.