Björk

Volta (Atlantic)

Although her flamboyant outfits have never been polite, Björk's past few albums certainly have been. The ice-crystal percussion and melodies on Vespertine were stunning but mannered, like an immaculately decorated parlor, while the nearly a cappella Medulla — an album in which beatboxing and throat-singing replaced traditional instrumentation — felt too gimmicky and academic. 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 No. 1, and a ten-piece Icelandic brass choir make Volta's songs leap to life — from the going-to-battle anxiety of the cinematic, marching "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" to fireworksesque 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 than 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 as ornate but generally lack brevity and a willingness to conform to traditional pop structure — meaning that some songs tend to run for too long or simply are as ephemeral as a melting icicle. But the big difference is that Björk sounds comfortable in her creative skin again on Volta, nonchalance that allows her beautiful quirkiness to burst forth joyfully.

 
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