Old sounds resurface in Bj?rk’s new album, ‘Volta’

Bj?rk serves as a rite of passage for young music hounds’ professional opinions. It’s only when they hear the Icelandic wonder that aural aficionados realize that what someone thinks of a piece doesn’t matter. Bj?rk is so strange and obscure that every opinion somehow manages to be objective fact.

Yes, Bj?rk is weird. Her singing often resembles the screams of a whining child being tortured to death. No, nobody knows what she’s saying, and nobody really cares either. In the end, we all have the same facts about Bj?rk. Whether or not we like her depends on how we arrange these facts. So really, a review doesn’t matter. She just doesn’t review well.

For the sake of argument and fairness, let’s say that someone who doesn’t find Bj?rk’s music to be nothing more than intolerable squealing wrote this review. If we all agree that she makes decent music, this will go by much easier.

Even so, “Volta” just isn’t all that good. Bj?rk’s singing is . well, it’s consistent, but that’s the problem. On previous records, Bj?rk had a tendency to shine on a bridge, chorus, verse or even a whole song. This time around, Bj?rk sticks to standard fare. There’s nothing to complain about, but then there’s nothing to get excited over, either.

As a whole, the album plays like a collection of unreleased B-sides spanning Bj?rk’s career. “Earth Intruders” sounds like a very early, very raw version of “Human Behavior.” Her duet, “The Dull Flame of Desire,” sounds as if it could have fit on the “Dancer in the Dark” soundtrack. The album’s low point, “Declare Independence,” mirrors “Pluto” so much that it’s possible they’re the same song from alternate realities: They’re both loud and obnoxious, and both of their respective albums would be much better off without them.

On the plus side, “Innocence” is great fun with its rhythmically erratic beat. Hip-hop producer Timbaland may not have been able to work his magic on “Earth Intruders,” but his salvaged-from-the-trash-heap production on “Innocence” is oddly top-notch.

The minimal production and Chinese pipa – a plucked string instrument sometimes called a Chinese lute – combined with the watery percussion on “I See Who You Are” stand out enough to make the song sound original. Amazingly, there really isn’t anything else by Bj?rk that “I See Who You Are” is easily compared to.

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Though many of the songs on Volta sound like unfinished copies of better, older songs, none of them (save “Declare Independence”) are at all bad. Fans of Bj?rk have probably already bought this album. Any new fans of the artist should pick up her first four records before considering this one; each of those is better than “Volta.” Again, though, because Bj?rk doesn’t review well, the score this album is given doesn’t really matter. Unlike the songs on this album, opinions of “Volta” will be independent and unique. There is a collection of facts about this album, and whether or not listeners like it will depend on how they arrange those facts.