Bjork – Biophilia
  • Production
  • Composition
  • Musicianship
  • Freshness
  • mobile app for the future

I am most pleased to present to you a very special guest reviewer, Jin Di Giordano, reviewing Bjork’s 2012 album, Biophilia. When I heard it and saw the app that let’s you become a participant in the album by manipulating the music, I thought to myself, “this is very prog and very cutting edge indeed.” So, knowing that she runs reviews on her own blog (http://www.violins-in-metal.blogspot.com/), I asked her if she could write up a review and she graciously said yes! Enjoy!

I don’t usually watch the news, but when I do I watch the Colbert report – and that happens to be how I found out about Bjork’s newest album, Biophilia. Having been a fan of hers in high school, she immediately had my attention from the moment she walked onto the show in her shiny plastic blue dress with 2 giant inflatable “blue” (instead of red) blood cells on her chest and hips, wearing a wig that looked like a giant orange skein of yarn. After I heard her explain that she had released a version of the album as an interactive iPhone app, and after beholding her stunning performance of the song “Cosmogony,” I knew I had to buy this app.

I’m not usually an impulse shopper but I bought this app without a moment’s hesitation, and spent the rest of the afternoon playing around with it. The Biophilia app takes advantage of new technologies to enhance and expand the experience of an album. Now, not only is there the music, the lyrics, and the album artwork, but also a 3 dimensional map of the album – in this case in the shape of the cosmos, with stars and galaxies representing the different songs, and for each individual song there included a short description of the meaning behind it, the score, and an interactive program in which you can either watch the song play out to some animation, or put the song on instrument mode and either change small components of the songs or try and recreate the song using the app as an instrument. The album menu/map is in the same sort of line-art style as was on the album artwork of Vespertine, but the videos for any of the songs can vary from minimalist to beautifully rendered CG. My favorite song to “play with” would have

to be “Virus” – the vivid colors and seemingly realistic responses of moving around the nucleus and watching it bounce off cell walls and the chime sounds produced by moving around the viruses are just gorgeous, despite the fact that the video is slightly creepy, being about viruses killing cells and all.

The songs on the album live up to Bjork’s previously high standards of being quirky, minimalist, yet very expressive and full of emotion. Her crooning voice belts out lyrics about science and biology while at the same time have undertones of actually being about a romantic relationship. You have your typical Bjork bell/chime sounds, strange percussion, and atonal choirs in the background. Musically, the album is on par with her previous work, there’s no sign of this diva slowing down! She even throws in some electronic almost dubstep like touches on mutual core, signifying that even though she was big in the 90’s she’s still keeping up with this times.

But to be honest, most of the instrument modes and “play song” features are too tedious for me to actually enjoy playing very often. There is the option of using the apps as instruments and saving your own version of the songs, but I’d personally plunk out the tunes myself on a piano where all the keys are straightforward and laid out in front of me than manipulate a series of colored harp strings being plucked at different tempos by orbiting planets. But that being said, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information contained in the app for such a low price. I know Dream Theater released a special edition of Black Clouds and Silver linings with all the master tracks on it, allowing fans to mix the songs to their own content. Moi Dix Mois also released a special edition of their album Dixandu which contained instrumental versions of the album songs, along with PC games and a desktop theme and clock. Within Temptation released their latest album The Unforgiving along with a comic book series. I feel like this Bjork app was along the same lines – these bands are all trying to take the concept of an album and take it to the next level, they all just have different ideas of what the next level is. Even though the app contained the songs from the album, you couldn’t just listen to the album straight through or transfer them to your computer in mp3 form. In a sense, it’s like the app is only supplemental to the album, and not quite the album itself – although I wonder how many people will be inclined to buy both? I am content with just owning the app, but then again, I’m not such a huge Bjork fan to where I would listen to this often enough to need it in different mediums.

Overall, I think this is a very creative an innovative approach to packaging an album, and I give Bjork and her team kudos for making use of the most popular “gadgets” of our era, the iPhone and iPad.