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The best Björk songs

The 11 best Björk songs

We pick the greatest tunes ever belted by the Icelandic diva

Written by
Brent DiCrescenzo

We are in the midst of a major Björk revival. MoMA in New York is opening a Björk exhibition, which does for her what the V&A’s ‘David Bowie Is’ did for her musical forefather. She’s headlining Wilderness festival this summer, and turns 50 this year. Oh, and she recently released an incredible new album, ‘Vulnicura, built from the ashes of her relationship with former partner Matthew Barney. So it's a good time to look back on her weird and wonderful discography, and put together a list of her greatest hits as voted on by Time Out’s music staff. Here they are: the very best of Björk. If such a thing is even possible.

‘Where Is the Line’ (2004)

11. ‘Where Is the Line’ (2004)

Who needs guitars to be metal? Who says acappella can't be cool? The Vikings invented heavy metal centuries ago, and Björk taps into her ancestral headbanging on this aborted single from ‘Medulla’, an album constructed solely from the human voice. The guttural beatboxing of Rahzel is chopped and layered into something that gets our devil horns in the air every time.

‘5 Years’ (1997)

10. ‘5 Years’ (1997)

Right now, the Voyager I space probe is drifting in interstellar space, carrying a gold photographic record of Terran music. ‘5 Years’ an underrated track from Björk's most sci-fi album ‘Homogenic’, is the sound of B-boy aliens discovering that LP and cutting up some old-school scratches. Over the cosmic hip hop, Björk (in one of her brassiest moments) taunts a cowardly fuck buddy: ‘You can't handle love, baby!’

‘Deus’ (1988)

9. ‘Deus’ (1988)

A Björk list without her old band The Sugarcubes would be remiss. So many of us first encountered the singer as a mesmerising, jumping youth, seemingly a child but already a mother, in videos for college rock hits like, well, ‘Hit’. But ‘Deus’ was the group’s pinnacle, a song of optimistic atheism that oozes love and maintains a sense of wonder. I once wrote that The Sugarcubes would have been much better without their galumphing co-vocalist Einar Örn. He emailed to say, ‘You are so right!’ Icelandic people are awesome. But I was so wrong.

‘Cocoon’ (2001)

8. ‘Cocoon’ (2001)

‘Cocoon’ is uncut romance at first blush. On ‘The Sensual World’, Björk’s predecessor Kate Bush transposed Molly Bloom’s closing monologue from ‘Ulysses’ directly into song, but Björk trumps her in capturing that vibe of post-coital stream of consciousness. We are in her head, in bed. ‘He’s still inside me,’ she sings with a shiver down her spine over pins-and-needles microbeats. It’s sexy as hell, realist R&B.

‘Lionsong’ (2015)

7. ‘Lionsong’ (2015)

Cut to a decade and a half later, and we are at the tail end of a relationship. After splitting with her partner and having her throat repaired, Björk is on top form in this stunning epic from her fresh break-up album, ‘Vulnicura’. The chorus alone captures our range of emotions in these situations: ‘Maybe he will come out of this loving me… Maybe he won’t… Somehow I'm not too bothered either way.’ She’s wounded, she’s worried, she’s over it, as a swell of strings lifts her from despair.

‘Triumph of a Heart’ (2004)

6. ‘Triumph of a Heart’ (2004)

The Spike Jonze video goes a long way in rocketing this track up our heart’s chart. That cat, man. That man-cat. But the song is equally brilliant. So much of Björk’s work is a celebration of humanism, often focusing on the body in a frank matter that makes the mundane profound. Her album ‘Medulla’, which only utilizes human sound, is the daring summation of that philosophy. This album closer is the playful polar opposite of uptight.

‘Big Time Sensuality’ (1993)

5. ‘Big Time Sensuality’ (1993)

The title alone works as an overall theme to Björk’s discography. At its heart, ‘Debut’ (which was not her debut) is a house record, but as much as it works on the dancefloor, it’s set in a private headspace. This early on, Björk was perhaps on course for a Madonna career arc, and she even wrote the underrated title track on Madge’s ‘Bedtime Stories’. Thankfully, unlike the Material Girl, Björk grew up.

‘Possibly Maybe’ (1995)

4. ‘Possibly Maybe’ (1995)

It’s weird to think that Björk was lumped in with trip hop in the mid-’90s, palling around with Tricky and Goldie. She was too far-reaching to fade in the same way as her peers, and even her most trip hoppy of moments, like this downtempo dream from her ‘Post’ album, seems above that zeitgeisty trend in hindsight. Chalk it up to her voice, which is too rainbow-bright to be constrained in such a gray and shadowy genre.

‘Army of Me’ (1995)

3. ‘Army of Me’ (1995)

Director Michel Gondry was an ideal collaborator for Björk, as both artists turn the home-spun into dazzling spectacle. The psychological heist in the ‘Army of Me’ video was probably their coolest product, a perfect visualisation of the song, which takes the cyberpunk stomp of Nine Inch Nails and paints on bright red polish.

‘Jóga’ (1997)

2. ‘Jóga’ (1997)

An album in wonder of nature and science, ‘Biophilia’ (2011) is not represented on this list, though ‘Jóga’ comes closest to the mood and idea of it. The rhythms are tectonic plates grinding under Björk’s volcano vocals. It’s epic. But what elevates this career peak is her remembering to keep herself in the picture. She sings of ‘emotional landscapes’, not just literal landscapes.

‘Hyperballad’ (1995)

1. ‘Hyperballad’ (1995)

Not to generalise here, but Icelandic writing – from the ‘Sæmundar Edda  to Halldór Laxness to Sjón – manages to make the plainspoken, quotidian details of domestic life feel epic. Even the Norse epics have poems about kettles. Björk is in that tradition, and her greatest moment is a powerful distillation of this: a love song of suicidal thoughts and silverware flung off a cliff. If any song can whip your hair back like a wind off the sea, this is it. Björk is lazily branded an alien, a fairy. No – oddly, it feels that way because she keeps her observations so real.

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