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Björk 

Volta (Atlantic)

Wednesday, May 16 2007
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While her flamboyant outfits might never be polite, Björk's last few albums certainly were. The ice-crystal percussion and melodies on Vespertine were stunning but mannered, like an immaculately decorated parlor. The nearly a cappella Medulla — an album where beatboxing and throat-singing replaced traditional instrumentation — felt too gimmicky and academic, and lacked the mischief that marked her previous pop experiments.

Thankfully, Björk's gleeful sense of adventure is back on Volta, perhaps thanks to her rediscovery of rhythm. Collaborators such as Timbaland, Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale, the African band Konono N¡1 and a 10-piece Icelandic brass choir make Volta's songs leap alive. The tracks move from the going-to-battle anxiety of "Vertebrae by Vertebrae," to fireworks-esque programming on a triumphant "Wanderlust," and the outer-space-drum-circle driving the bumpy carousel-whirl "Earth Intruders." The slow-burning highlight "Declare Independence" even sounds downright dangerous, with bleating beats and thundering synths short-circuiting around Björk as she screams, with more unabashed emotion as she's let loose in years, "Raise your flag! Declare independence! Don't let them do that to you!"

Still, those hoping for a carbon-copy of Post or Homogenic will be somewhat disappointed: Volta's songs are just as ornate, but generally lack brevity and a willingness to conform to traditional pop structure. Some songs tend to run for too long, or simply are as ephemeral as a melting icicle. But the big difference here is that Björk sounds completely comfortable in her creative skin on Volta, with a nonchalance that allows her beautiful quirkiness to joyfully burst forth. — Annie Zaleski

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Annie Zaleski

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