Harm of Will by Bjork
How interesting that a song written in 2001 can have such an eerie reminder of post-romantic music that came about 100 years earlier, especially when it is in an entirely new genre. To me, music like this is a wonderful reminder that musical genres are not rigid; anything goes in this modern musical age. This song truly plays with expectations, which should be welcomed by any listener. This song does very well with musical elements that contemporaries had trouble with, and falls a bit short with elements that others sold their lives to. In that regard, it is very much like a modern take of post-romanticism (if this review seems awfully similar to the Debussy review a few weeks back, do not be alarmed). The one musical element that is lacking in this piece is a strong, linear melodic line. There were sections of the vocal line that separated itself from the texture at some key points, which gave it some interest. Musically, however, listeners have nothing to latch onto as far as memorable motives go. The vocal line did not capture much attention, which does not bode well for an intriguing melody (it was an incredible decision, though, which will be discussed later). What saves the melody from being tastefully bad is its amount of repetition and familiarity. Although it is not a line that is easily harmonized, it stays within a few certain pitches so that it is at least identifiable. It also has a wonderfully constructed contour which moves well throughout the piece and climaxes at the perfect time. In the grand scheme of this piece, the melody is but an afterthought.
When someone tries to describe a piece of music as “art-pop”, that usually just means that the foundation of a popular song has been creatively experimented with. This harmony is not only experimental, but fully artistic. There is thankfully no traceable existence of the “commercialism” foundation in this sound, and that is due to the creative harmony being employed. It sounds a never-ending puzzle that keeps being added to. It unravels from multiple 7th chords to simple triads, only to be given a new direction by an added non-chord tone. There is just enough harmonic ambiguity to sound interesting and appealing. This ambiguity also allows for some incredible moments when the harmony finally lands on a recognizable chord that fits within a key. It creates an amazing weave of sound. There were times when the voice came in that the harmony become a bit static when it should have either expounded on its previous motion or worked to counter the vocal line. That was not completely terrible, though, since the harmony had already established itself as slow-moving and difficult to detect. This harmony made up for the lack of melody incredibly well, and then some.
This is an incredible combination of the old and the new. The orchestral instrumentation of strings, pitched percussion, and voice seems archaic for a popular artist’s song written merely 15 years ago. This goes to show that there is no limits for any genre in terms of instrumentation; it is all about what mood or message the musician wants to portray. This piece combines standard orchestral instruments with modern techniques of echo and reverb to create an awe-inspiring soundscape. Bjork (I am assuming she had full creative control) did not limit herself at all. She recognized everything that was available to her and did an incredible job with choosing each specific sound. The most effective to me was the entrance of the choir in the background. It was everything an effective timbre is supposed to be: unique, surprising, pleasing, and fitting. When the harmony had its moments of stasis, the timbre kept the piece alive with the beautiful strings and the soft celesta motives. This collective sound had some risk to it by not including any instruments more relateable to the general public such as piano or guitar (the latter certainly would not have fit at all). The risk paid off very well, and the result is a sound that you’ll want to hear over and over again.
Regardless of how the general populace views her, Bjork has been incredibly important in the popular music world, paving a way for other songwriters who are not satisfied with the cheap sounds and sellout culture of today’s pop music. She has brought ideals of post-romanticism, minimalism, post-modernism, and ambient music into a popular setting, which has opened doors for other musicians to take part in this collide of concert music and commercial music. I would argue that her effect on the popular music world is by accident, since she really is a classically influenced musician who is simply writing what she alone wants. It is a shame that she could not quite gain the support that other comparable artists, who have not gone as far as her, have benefited from (I’m looking at you, Lady Gaga). This particular album was not necessarily a standout in her career, but it a great representation of her ability.
Final Score: 137/180