Bjork – Debut

Debut was released in 1993, and it sounds as adventurous and free-spirited as ever. Bjork sings fearlessly, turning her relatively weak voice into one of the strongest voices in electronic pop music.

Though the CD is over ten years old, few artists have caught up with Bjork. She explores all types of songs, arranging each with an eclectic blend of synths and traditional instruments. The music is very wide-ranging. Human Behavior starts the album off with a twist. The percussion sounds like a combination of timpani and snare drum. Bjork adds interesting synth work, samples and electronic effects, but the most important element is her voice.

Bjork sounds like no one else. She whispers, she pants, she yodels, she uses her breathing as part of her sound, and she audibly smiles while she sings certain phrases. Her performances are incredibly full of life, emotion and intensity.

Crying is a song about longing for someone that is gone, about  being alone in a crowd. It the stuff of country music songs, but Bjork’s take is far enough out that it doesn’t just sound like she’s from another country, but maybe another planet. Bjork continues her weird, funky arranging by having the bass played on piano. Bjork plays with timing of her vocals, drawing them out, delaying them against the beat, and switching from legato to staccato singing in a blink.

Venus as a boy is an ode to a great lover:

“His wicked sense of humour
Suggests exciting sex
His fingers focus on her
Touches, he’s Venus as a boy

He believes in beauty
He’s Venus as a boy

He’s exploring
The taste of her
So accurate
He sets off
The beauty in her
He’s Venus as a boy

He believes in beauty
He’s Venus as a boy”

Bjork’s orchestration and singing somehow make this all sound innocent, even when she’s singing about exciting sex and the taste of her arousal. In a way, her song transforms the subject matter into something innocent. Her orchestration has many other interesting elements, including Bhangra-like string orchestrations.

One of the standout tracks of the album is “There’s more to life than this.” It’s a upbeat techno-pop dance track about there being more to life than dancing to upbeat techno-pop dance tracks:

“Come on girl
Let’s sneak out of this party
It’s getting boring
There’s more to life than this

It’s still early morning
We could go down to the harbour
And jump between the boats
And see the sun come up

We could nick a boat
And sneak off to this island
I could bring my little ghetto blaster
There’s more to life than this

But then we’d have to rush back
To the town’s best baker
To get the first bread of the morning
There’s more to life than this”

Bjork surprises your ears in the middle of the song. She manipulates the ambience of the track and suddenly fades out the backing music, making it sound like she’s singing karaoke and has taken the mike down the hall and into the restroom. Then she reverses this, sounding like she’s gone back to the party to finish up her song, before sneaking out, nicking a boat and taking her ghetto blaster to an island.

After this, she shifts gears again, covering a standard, Like someone in love. She backs her voice up with just harp and some subtle string synths. It’s a traditional arrangement of a standard, but, again, her vocals make it electrifying. Her voice sounds weak and untrained, and unlike the voices you usually covering standards. Her rawness makes her powerful performance all the more affecting.

After the soft love song, Bjork strips your gears by digging into some Big Time Sensuality:

“We just met
and I know I’m a bit too intimate
but something huge is coming up
and we’re both included

It takes courage
to enjoy it the hardcore and the gentle
big time sensuality”

Big Time Sensuality is an interesting techno pop song until Bjork goes totally ballistic, like somebody cranking up the resonance knob on a TB303. Her voice goes stratospheric, and she growls, grunts, bays at the moon, and primal screams. Suddenly it’s not just interesting anymore. To quote When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have whatever she’s having!”

Other highlights are One Day, a mellow trance song, and Violently Happy, which is sort of a dark love song.

Anyone interested in music with an edge and artists that are willing to take risks should give Bjork’s Debut a listen. It may lead to an addiction, though!

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