Two lines encapsulate Biophilia: “My romantic gene is dominant,” and “As fast as your fingernail grows, the Atlantic Ridge drifts.” Björk’s eighth is an album of emotional and scientific marvel, a bit like having a Viking soprano serenade you as you watch Discovery’s Planet Earth in high-def.
The Icelandic fashionista began this record as a project for National Geographic, and its genesis shows. It wows in the same way a chemistry experiment can seem like a magic trick. These ten tracks of haute soul are largely played on clever, invented instruments like a Tesla-coil keyboard, which crackles deep beneath “Thunderbolt,” and a robotic music box filled with dozens of hammered brass plates. When the latter chimes away, seemingly at random, you consider that behind the scampering pattern lies programming and a brain.
It’s nerdy, sure, but rooted to the heart by Björk, whose voice remains the greatest force of nature. There’s something motherly and comforting in the way she purrs her Rs. The bits about viruses and crystal growth are merely allegories for love or death.
Her booming pipes are front and center, set against her least cluttered arrangements yet, which shift between Japanese chamber folk and eerie church organ. When the electronic bits rush in, wow. “Cosmology” shows how creation myths and astrophysics are equally strange and wonderful. Björk is often painted as some quirky sprite, but her fantasyland is our own world.