Week 16: “New World” by Bjork

Though I recognize Bjork’s talent, I find it difficult to make it through an entire album without feeling like I’m losing my grip on sanity. For me, it’s a bit like watching Japanese cartoons; very colourful, very different, kind of exciting…but you don’t really understand what’s going on, and after a while the noises start to get annoying.

Bjork is an oddity. And I mean that in the best possible way; her rise to global fame in the 1990s, given the experimental nature of her music and the unusual quality of her voice, baffles me. Just take a look at the other female vocalists who were popular in the 90s: Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston…next to them, Bjork looks like a recently escaped mental patient with a love of showtunes.

But whether you categorize her as a genius or a weirdo, I insist that you take another listen to this song, from the soundtrack to the film “Dancer in the Dark”, directed by Lars Von Trier.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The lyrics. Co-written by Von Trier and Bjork, this song feels a bit like a eulogy for the movie’s main character (played by Bjork in the film). It’s a sad and bizarre story of a Czech woman living in the US in the 60s, who is slowly losing her sight due to a genetic condition. As she goes blind, she relies on her imagination to escape from the monotony of the factory where she works. (Oh, and she’s working there to save up enough money for an operation which would save her son from going blind as well. Uplifting stuff.) But knowing that her character is blind makes some of the vivid lyrical imagery even more powerful: “I’m softly walking on air/Halfway to heaven from here/Sunlight unfolds in my hair…”

2. The melody. The three notes she sings on “oooooh” are just great. Every time I hear the song, I’m surprised at myself for having forgotten how great those notes are.

3. The orchestration. This song is a great mix of electronic and live instruments. I think Massive Attack might have collaborated on this song, but apart from shaky internet evidence, my only reason for thinking that is “well, it kind of sounds like Massive Attack”. But the orchestration is where the song really earns its spot on this list. Bjork is famous for big orchestration, and most of the time she does it to remind you of how wacky she is (e.g. It’s Oh So Quiet), but in this song it’s there to support the melody, and it does so beautifully. From a quiet French Horn line at the beginning to a full-on symphonic explosion, then back down to a soft trumpet that brings to mind a military funeral, the orchestration in this song is perfect.

Recommended listening activity:

Taking one last look through your old apartment before moving.

Buy it here.