Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21: Björk, "Hyperballad"

Artist: Björk
Song: "Hyperballad"
Album: Post
Year: 1995

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While at some level, almost every artist or band can be placed into one genre or another, there are once-in-a-generation performers that simply defy all description, and can only be defined by their name alone.  Though these completely unique artists are scattered across the decades, as well as the distant connections to their sound, they all remain some of the most innovative and important contributors to the overall existence of music.  Many artists may vie for such a distinction, but very few are worthy of such a status, and over the past two decades, few performers have set themselves aside from others as consistently and in as amazing a style as one finds in the music of Iceland’s own Björk.  With her soaring voice and some of the most mind-bending musical arrangements ever committed to tape, there are simply no words that can even remotely provide and accurate description of the musical landscapes which she creates.  Furthermore, as her career has progressed, she has forged into new territory, with her albums yielding new approaches with each release.  From the strangely danceable sounds of her 1993 album, Debut, to the instrument-less masterpiece, Medúlla, one can easily point to Björk as the most courageous musician of her generation.  Due to the massive diversity in her albums, it is rather difficult to find a single song or even group of songs that accurately represent her vast musical talents.  However, it is her 1995 album, Post, in which she brings all of her various sounds together in stunning fashion.  There is not a moment anywhere on the record that is anything less than awe-inspiring, and yet one cannot deny that the albums' final single, "Hyperballad," stands not only as the best track, but also perhaps the finest moment in Björk's career.

One of the keys to Björk's amazing sound is her ability to seamlessly work high-energy moods into some of the most blissful, soothing musical arrangements.  While countless musicians have attempted this juxtaposition of sounds, no other has been able to do so as successfully as Björk.  On "Hyperballad," Björk brings in producer Nellee Hooper, and the duo create a complex musical background that defies all categorization.  The way in which the two work the programmed drums alongside the orchestral arrangement defines the term "ambient," and it is done to such an amazing level that the song becomes almost hypnotic.  The pulsing, almost echoing keyboards dance lightly across the track, and it is this melody that makes "Hyperballad" border on euphoric.  It is this ability uncanny to truly carry the listener away that defines Björk's musical approach, and the way in which the almost space-like keyboard blends with the violins, then giving way to the speedy programmed drums that gives "Hyperballad" such fantastic depth.  The superb combination of sound, speed, and mood is also what has made "Hyperballad" a favorite of DJ's, and there have been countless remixes of the song from everyone from Broadsky Quartet to Wu-Tang Clan's RZA.  This also enforces what a wide appeal Björk has gained through her uncommon sound, and further adds to the overall greatness of "Hyperballad."

Though the musical arrangement over which she performs on "Hyperballad" is nothing short of phenomenal, as is almost always the case, it is Björk's voice that quickly becomes the centerpiece of the song.  While on many songs, she stuns listeners with her amazing range and power, on "Hyperballad," it is the level of intimacy and perfect pitch that becomes so breathtaking.  Keeping her vocals as restrained and hypnotic as the music, Björk sings in a style which is almost akin to a lullaby, yet when she moves into the bridge and chorus sections, the unparalleled power and emotion in her voice becomes apparent.  In many ways, both in her vocal approach, as well as the lyrics, one can see "Hyperballad" as a strange, perhaps futuristic love song.  The combination of her voice and the music give it a futuristic feel, and yet one can easily interpret the words of a person looking to keep excitement in a long-time relationship.  As she sings of creating massive destruction by throwing objects from a cliff while her lover sleeps, when she delivers the lines, "...I go through all this before you wake up, so I can feel happier to be safe again with you...," one can quickly understand that this is one of the most pure testaments of love that has ever been captured on tape.  The honest emotion comes through clearly in her voice, and it is obvious that this song is close to her heart, and it is this proximity to her music that further sets Björk apart from her peers.

If there was any artist in history that could make a case for being misunderstood by the masses, few can make as good an argument as Icelandic musical pioneer, Björk.  Never caring for what critics thought of her music, or what musical norms came and went, she perfectly defines the term of "unique artist."  Whether it is her unmatched voice, the emotion with which she sings, or the wildly eclectic musical arrangements over which she sings, there is simply no other artist in music history that even comes remotely close to her sound.  Serving as a perfect transition from the almost poppy sound of her first record to the far more complex and adventurous sounds of her later record, 1995's Post may very well be Björk's crowning musical achievement.  The album presents a vast range of musical landscapes, from dark, aggressive songs to some of the most sparse and delicate tracks of her entire career.  Serving a similar role on the album as the record does to her overall career, "Hyperballad" pulls the best of all of these sounds, bringing a quiet but intense mood, and presenting some of Björk's most alluring vocals.  Even with all of this, one cannot deny the fact that it is a love song at its core, and in many ways, it is perhaps the love song for the technology generation.  Regardless of which aspect one points to, in terms of both its uniqueness, as well as the sheer beauty of the song, there is simply nothing else in music history that compares to Björk's 1995 masterpiece, "Hyperballad."

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