Icelandic singer Björk describes her latest record as her “mushroom album.” She says the music on “Fosorra,” her 10th studio album, evokes the feeling of landing on earth, digging your feet in the ground, and planting yourself where you are. Since the 1990s, Björk’s alluring, and often bizarre, music has never been easy to categorize. Today, she’s somehow close to a household name, while simultaneously regarded as a revered, avant-garde thinker.
Spencer Kornhaber recently spent a day with Björk in Reykjavík, and he says the experience was magical. He recently profiled the artist for The Atlantic.
“She is hilarious and very otherworldly in the sense that she is maybe tapped into a way of seeing the world that not everyone can see,” Kornhaber says.
While “Fossora” focuses on the natural earth, Kornhaber says the album is also a reflection on family. That includes Björk’s role as a mother and grandmother, plus her mom who died a few years ago. The song “Ancestress” is a ritualistic tribute, Kornhaber describes.
“She’s trying to create this processional vibe, almost like it's a parade. And then on the other hand in the lyrics, she's pretty clearly describing her mother's final day on her deathbed. One of the things that Björk loves to do is pull back on the human experience and look at the world through lenses such as biology or science,” he says. “She's describing her as almost like a biological machine or phenomenon, and really trying to process her death in terms of the idea that everything dies and that we're all just made of substances.”
However, the album is not about loss.
“What she didn't want to happen was for people to think that this was a grief album or that she was really thinking of herself as some wailing woman or victim. She really seems to hate the kind of cliche of the mourning woman. And she didn't want this album to be defined by that cliche.”
Earlier in her career, Björk famously remarked that she wasn’t a feminist. Kornhaber says that’s changed.
“It’s a surprising trajectory she's had over the years with that word ‘feminist,’ because there are no artists like her of any gender full-stop, like as she's just completely singular figure,” he says. “But for her to be that singular and that willful and that important in the 90s, it definitely made her a feminist icon, whether or not she wanted to use that word.”
He adds, “And it seems like her avoidance of that word is tied up with this avoidance of the idea of fitting herself into any box at all or embracing labels. … And also just trying to avoid, again, that idea of being defined by oppression.”
Kornhaber points out that the album’s title may be a made-up word, but represents the power of femininity.
“It means female diggers. [It’s] a female form of digger in Latin. And so it's taking this idea of building, manual labor, and digging in the earth and planting down roots. That might be seen as masculine … but she is showing the flipside of it and really trying to show the strength of the feminine ideas, such as building a nest or nurturing a family.”
Kornhaber says the best song on the album is “Ovule.”
“It's such an example of how when you listen to her at first, you're like, ‘What am I listening to? I cannot even begin to understand why you would make music that sounds like this.’ But it's kind of like learning a language, where you home in on the particular moments or elements that you understand, and then you build an understanding from there. And then once you come to some fluency, you become addicted to speaking that language.”