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BONUS: Underrated Björk songs with The Björk Collector

For this episode I teamed up with Elijah Flores. You may know him as @thebjorkcollector on Instagram. Elijah’s collection is comprehensive. He has purchased every Björk release since Debut and is familiar with even the most obscure parts of her career. So I wanted to bring him on the show to talk about some lesser known, or maybe just underrated songs in her discography.

He’ll share 10 of his picks here, and I’ll add a few of my own. We’ll start chronologically with her work in The Sugarcubes and conclude around the Medulla period.

If you want to listen to any of the songs in full, check out this YouTube playlist: https://tinyurl.com/45hp9jpz 

 
 

TRANSCRIPT

Savannah: Hey, friends. After a short break, I am now hard at work on season 2. But to tide you over, I wanted to release two episodes. These are previews of the new format I’m experimenting with for season 2. 

 

Now that you’ve had an introduction to Bjork’s music, we can take a deeper dive into her work.

And the first format I’m trying out is a listicle with fellow Bjork fans. Because who doesn’t love a good music countdown?

 

For this episode I teamed up with Elijah Flores.

 

Elijah: I run the Instagram page, the Bjork collector, which, uh, uh, just been, over the, like the last five years I've been posting all the pieces from my collection. Like the discography, like in order of release, like all the way through to the most current releases.

 

Savannah: Elijah’s collection is comprehensive. He’s been buying every Bjork release since Debut. That’s when he heard “Human Behavior” for the first time and fell in love with her music.

 

Elijah: That first track was like, Whoa, you know, like I had, I'm like, Oh, this song is, I love her voice. I love it. And then, you know, slowly piece together, Oh, this is this sugar cubes. I realized it was the same singer. And basically from then, I've been like a diehard Bjork fan.

What I mainly collect is, um, the, the first pressings of the us and UK releases for the most part, there are some I'll buy the singles and, you know, There are some promos and stuff that I'll get, I don't buy or collect any of like the white label, radio promos, or interoffice CDs from, uh, you know, different labels and stuff like that.

 

Savannah: And his most prized collector’s item?

 

Elijah: That little hand booklet that Bjork made like before the shear cubes are like right as Smith Aleisha was starting.

She made like a little poetry booklet and yeah, they're like, there's a hundred of them and they're hand colored in with markers and, and co and crayon. Um, and they were put together by her and the, and the rest of the members of The Sugarcubes... And that came from someone reaching out to me, um, through my Instagram page.

 

Savannah: As you can tell, Elijah is familiar with even the most obscure parts of Bjork’s career. So I wanted to bring him on to talk about some lesser known, or maybe just underrated songs in Bjork’s discography. 

 

He’ll share 10 of his picks here, and I’ll add a few of my own. We’ll start chronologically with her work in The Sugarcubes.

Elijah: The songs that I chose are like, I would say they're like 80% B-sides, and then the other like 20% are songs that like, I think that really showcase the power of Bjork's voice. 


Savannah: Yeah. So I think her voice is showcased in so many of her songs, but I guess these might be ones that people don't necessarily think of. Or the ones that people don't talk about enough. Um, okay. So the first one is from the Sugarcubes, F***ing in Rhythm and Sorrow, from Life's Too Good.


(clip from "F***ing in Rhythm and Sorrow") 


Savannah: Why did you choose this song? Like what, what stood out to you about it? 


Elijah: I love it. I love it. From the first beginning notes of this song, just the. In my head I see like a music video for this. It's never been. Or like a little stage play of Bjork like running around on a stage, like a stage set up, like just, it's such a fun song. I love the line when she's like naked, man, come down. I'll give you some strawberry cake.


(clip from "F***ing in Rhythm and Sorrow" plays) 


Elijah: I love it. And then she goes into her whole, whole, whole, the whole shouting or screaming. I don't know what you call that. The Bjork screams. Is it Bjork shouts?


(clip from "F***ing in Rhythm and Sorrow" plays) 


Savannah: That's funny that you mentioned like a stage play. Cause it totally felt like that to me. I was, I could totally see this being kind of like a weird short play, where it just sounds very jaunty to me, like just like a jaunty musical number, because she was reacting in real time to what's happening.


Elijah: Exactly. I wish you could go back in time and direct a music video because I see it like in a small theater on a stage with like cheap stage play, like background setups and her acting out basically what she's talking about. 


Savannah: Yeah, exactly. Like it shows her complete emotional range. Like when she surprised to see the naked man, she has this like sharp intake of breath. She's like, it's just so funny to like, hear her react. 


Elijah: "Naked man, come down! I'll give you some strawberry cake!" And then, you know, I can't remember the rest of the lines, but yeah. 


Savannah: Okay. Um, the second one that you brought up from the Sugarcubes was "Motorcycle Mama."
 

(clip from "Motorcycle Mama" plays) 
 

Savannah: Do you want to tell me about that song? What stands out to you? 
 

Elijah: I just love it. It's another, um, they've done it. They did a couple covers. They did "Top of the World" by The Carpenters, which also a good cover song by the Sugarcubes. Um, but this song, "Motorcycle Mama," it's on a compilation album, Electra's 40th anniversary. And this album has like The Cure and, They Might Be Giants and like all these Electra artists from the eighties doing covers of bands on Electra from like the sixties and seventies.
 

This was just like a folky song by a band called Sailcat. And, uh, the original version is kind of folky. 
 

(clip from "Motorcycle Mama" by Sailcat plays) 
 

Elijah: But the way that the Sugarcubes do it, it's just a fun song and the expression and emotion in her voice with the lyrics and it's not like one of their original tracks, but I really like their spin on it.
 

(another clip from "Motorcycle Mama" by The Sugarcubes plays) 
 

Savannah: Okay. So now we're talking about, uh, Bjork's solo stuff. Um, and the first one that you wanted to bring up was "Come to Me" from Debut. What are some of the specific parts about the song that really caught your attention? 
 

Elijah: Oh, man. This whole song.
 

(clip from "Come to Me" plays) 
 

Elijah: Looking back at Debut, this is definitely the standout track on that album for me. Like this is more timeless than any of the songs on Debut. Now, when I hear Debut, it's like, okay, yeah, that's high school or whatever, because a lot of those tracks are like dated to a certain time. But "Come to Me," that will like always be for sure one of my favorites. And I just feel it's like an underappreciated song on Debut. I hear people talking about it the least. 
 

Savannah: No, I agree that this song is underrated. It's not one that I feel like a lot of Bjork fans will bring up, especially in regards to Debut. I feel like the main ones are "Human Behavior" and maybe "Big Time Sensuality," like those two big singles, but I love the main synth riff.
I agree that that one is more timeless than some of the other uses of synth on that record. And I love also how Bjork's vocals, just are floating in this whole song . It just adds to that mystery.

 

(clip from "Come to Me" plays) 
 

Elijah: Yes. Like if anybody was gonna sing a song to me, this would be the song and the lyrics that I would want to hear from someone, you know, it's just like a beautiful love song. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, it is. You mentioned in our emails that you thought it, or you think it's her best love song. Which I think is interesting because she is very like heart on her sleeve with a lot of her other love songs, but this one is a lot more restrained. Like she's saying, you know, I adore you, so let's not even talk about it. Like, don't burst the bubble. 
 

Elijah: Yeah, "I'll take care of you. I'm always going to be there. Like, don't worry about it." I'm like, okay. I like, I like all of this stuff. 
 

Savannah: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's definitely more restrained, but I like that. And I think that it feels very cinematic to me, even like when the strings and the tabla, that Indian hand drum come in near the end.
 

(clip from "Come to Me" plays) 
 

Savannah: When I was looking into that song, of course on the sidebar came the live version and that's, the live version is so incredible. 
 

(clip from "Come to Me" - Vulnicura Live version ) 
 

Savannah: So let's move on then to another one on your list, which was Karvel. 
 

(clip from "Karvel" plays) 
 

Elijah: It's I would say a classic b-side track on a single where it's like, okay, "A good song," but it was chosen to be removed from the album for whatever reason. 
 

I think this was one of the first songs that she worked with, um, Graham Massey from 808 State on. I believe that this was like when they first got together and they were messing around in the studio or whatever. I think this is one of the first songs they wrote together and recorded over a short period of time. So it was done quickly, and kind of set as a side song, I think. But I do like, it. It, it is very, um, it does have a very nineties feel to it. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, no, I, I definitely agree that it has kind of like a nineties computer game sound almost. But I think the drums are really fun, especially when the drums kind of break down at the end.
 

(clip from the end of "Karvel") 
 

Savannah: So the next one was "I Go Humble."
 

(clip from "I Go Humble") 
 

Savannah: And I love this one as well. Uh, I'm curious, what stands out to you about it? 
 

Elijah: This is just a great song, and I love the live version of it. Especially on the Homogenic Live. She does a version of this and at the end, she goes into, "You Want To Be Starting Something."
 

(clip from "I Go Humble" - Homogenic Live version) 
 

Elijah: I've always wondered if that was just, she did that on the spot, like while she was singing and she just threw it in there or there's like some other backstory for that, on that, on that live version. Cause I do love that. 
 

Savannah: Yeah. Well I do know that she loves Michael Jackson's music or at least she did during that period. But, um, I feel like this is-- 
 

Elijah: Right, which I have on another, in one of my later songs, one of my later picks I have a hypothesis. 
 

Savannah: Oh, yes. Yes. We will get to that. It seems like this is one of those songs, though, that is like, I don't know how to describe it, except that there's like this steady build. And it's one of those songs that when you would hear it live, I could imagine the band kind of breaking out and doing their own like solos near the end, almost like jazz solos. So it kind of makes sense that they would riff it into another song almost because it just has that nice, like building quality near the end. 
 

 Elijah: Right. And the beat's similarity towards the end, you know. It, the beat, is similar, so it kind of just. It kind of works. 
 

 Savannah: Yeah, exactly. Um, okay. So moving on into the next song, my snare.
 

(clip from "My Snare" plays) 
 

Elijah: Yeah, it's a. I think it's a b-side on Bachelorette. Came on Japanese pressings. It came as like a bonus song on Homogenic. And then later the name of the song changed to "Nature is Ancient" when they did a music video. Lynn Fox did a music video. And I think, you know, it was kind of a, a later release if I remember. And the video, the video didn't show up until like, just before. It actually feels more like a Vespertine song than a Homogenic song. If you're gonna look at those two albums, this is like a good middle ground song between those two albums.
 

(clip from "My Snare" plays) 
 

Savannah: Yeah, the melody of the song, at least in the chorus, reminded me a little bit of Medulla. At least the song "Who is it?" which we're going to talk about later. But someone in the YouTube comments was like, "I wonder what the song would sound like acapella," and I could totally hear it. Like, it just kind of has that feeling of "Who Is It," almost like a compliment to that track. Especially cause there's so many vocal layers.
 

Elijah: I could see that.
 

 Savannah: Yeah. So now we're kind of moving more into the Vespertine era with the song "Domestica."
 

(clip from "Domestica" plays) 
 

Elijah: This one again is like great for a B side. It just feels like Bjork at home. Like I listened to this a lot, first thing in the morning, sometimes when I'm just starting my day and making coffee and stuff like that. Cause it just feels like that. It's just like writing a song in her head while she can't find her keys and you know, taxi's honkin and she's like, "Oh." It just feels like real. It just feels like a, real life situation for Bjork, like Bjork at home, trying to find her keys.
 

(clip from "Domestica" plays) 
 

Savannah: Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. Thematically it's perfect for Vespertine cause it's all about like, just home and kind of mundane moments that she makes into beautiful moments. Sonically, I feel like it's not as sophisticated. It feels a little unfinished. I don't know if it's like the kind of computer gamey sound of the synth.
 

Elijah: Yeah, I would call it like a, more of a simple song. Just it's a very simple. 
Savannah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It doesn't have as many layers of beats or, or vocals as other Vespertine tracks. But yeah, I do like just kind of the simplicity of it. I mean, not everything has to be complicated. 
But here's where I kind of want to insert a couple of songs that are from those b-sides that are on my list. First is "Amphibian."

 

(clip from "Amphibian" plays) 
 

Savannah: There's this whistling sound in that track that reminds me a little bit of Morricone, the composer from A Fistful of Dollars.
 

(clip from "A Fistful of Dollars" theme plays) 
 

Savannah: I don't know, it just has this kind of like mystery quality, but it's also perfect for Vespertine. Like, at least a Vespertine era song, because a whistle is something that you would just, you know, you whistle around your house. Like it's an instrument you would find in your house. 
 

Elijah: I agree. And like I said, Vespertine has a lot of b-sides. You think that album, that song could have fit on the tracklist for Vespertine or you think it, it feels appropriate to be a b-side? 
 

Savannah: I think it's better as a b-side. It's hard to explain, but I feel like it was maybe not sophisticated again, as the Vespertine tracks. Like I think it has definitely more layers than "Domestica," but not quite enough to be like on the level of the rest of the Vespertine tracks. 
But I do think her vocals sound very "Cocoon"-like in this one. They're very delicate and whispery, and I love how they're layered, especially at the end. She continues to add more and more layers of vocals and who doesn't love that? I mean more Bjork, right?

 

(clip from the end of "Amphibian" plays) 
 

Savannah: Another one I wanted to talk about from the Vespertine b-sides is "Mother Heroic." 
(clip from "Mother Heroic" plays) 

 

Savannah: So this one and the next one I want to talk about: it's interesting because they kind of have this like religious imagery in their lyrics. Like "Mother Heroic" definitely sounds like, I mean, if not the Virgin Mary, because I know she's not Catholic, but it just, it could be nature. It just sounds very reverent.
She talks about like the ecstatic face, perfect sorrows, coming onto your knees with a prayer.

 

(clip from "Mother Heroic" plays) 
 

Savannah: I mean, I don't really feel like I find other religious imagery in her other tracks on Vespertine. But it kind of works with that feeling that she has on the rest of the album of just being like really vulnerable around your lover and like the ecstasy of being with them and. And almost like, not worshiping them but almost. 
 

Elijah: Yeah, a more spiritual, emotional, yeah. It's like a spiritual song versus like religious. I can feel that. But yeah, I mean, all of the tracks from like the Vespertine era, all had a very personal and emotional feeling to them, for sure. So. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, like they're intimate? 
 

Elijah: Yeah. Very intimate and very personal. 
 

Savannah: Yeah. Um, and what's interesting also about this song is it's just the music box. Like there aren't any choral voices in the background or beats really. It's just the music box, but I think that really focuses your attention on her voice. And so it feels very like wistful and nostalgic almost. Cause you know, music boxes, I feel like it's something you kind of associate with childhood.
 

(clip from "Mother Heroic" plays) 
 

Savannah: And so, just to kind of wrap up this period: "Generous Palmstroke" was another one that I really love. Again, there's some kind of like spiritual imagery. Like if I had just seen these words in isolation, I would have thought they were almost like a scripture, where it's, "I am strong in his hands. I am beyond me. On my own I am human and I do faults.
 

(clip from "Generous Palmstroke" plays) 
 

Savannah: But we know that she's not talking about God, she's talking about like the person that she's with. Her love. And so again, it's kind of like that infatuation and intensity of being with someone where you feel like, "oh, you complete me." 
 

Elijah: Exactly. I mean, these are great love songs. I definitely feel you on that.
 

Savannah: Yeah. Especially, I love the live version because it's just her and the harp. And so it doesn't have kind of like the layers from the recorded version, which are also beautiful, but I love that with this, with just her and the harp, it's like, you really just focus on those two sounds. 
And the harpist is incredible. Like everyone should go and watch that. The way that she has kind of recreated the glitchy harp of the recorded version with just her hands.

 

(clip from "Generous Palmstroke" plays) 
 

Elijah: I remember hearing it and being like, okay, that's a good b-side sidetrack and kind of putting it off at the time. And then I remember seeing Vespertine live and The Best of Tour and I think that song grabbed me more hearing it and seeing it live. So I'm like, oh yeah, I forgot about this song. It's like on a single. And like, that was a huge push to go back to that song and really appreciate it after I saw it performed live.
 

Savannah: I love when that happens too. When you see an artist live and then they give you like a newfound appreciation for a certain song that you kind of overlooked. Um, I think it's really special. 
So then the next song that we were going to talk about is from the Greatest Hits album: "It's in Our Hands."

 

(clip from "It's in Our Hands" plays) 
 

Elijah: Yeah. I just like the little, the little crunchy beats in it. And video is great. She's like got a little pregnant belly, a little bug going through the grass or whatever. It's just a good, fun song that I don't think it gets enough love. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, I agree. I really love the synth melody on this one. And the layers of the beats. It kind of has that Vespertine feel where it's not like one dominant beat, but it's a bunch of microbeats that are fun. 
 

Elijah: Layered beats and like, you know, just the little crinkly sounds that make up the beat in this track. I love it.
 

(clip from "It's in Our Hands" plays) 
 

Savannah: I'd also say it's pretty accessible. I feel like it's upbeat. It has a pretty memorable chorus. Like, I wouldn't say that for a lot of her songs, but this one I could hear on the radio honestly. 
 

Elijah: That was actually one of my other notes. I remember this got a lot of radio play when it first came out. I remember hearing it on the radio quite a bit. I'm like, whoa, this is cool. Like they're playing Bjork on the radio a lot. And it seems like a little bit more a radio hit, like more friendly for a general audience. For people who think Bjork sounds weird or whatever, for those poor unfortunate people, like this is a great song. Listen to this. Maybe this will make you like more of her songs.
 

(clip from "It's in Our Hands" plays) 
 

Savannah: So the other one, we're kind of going now to Medulla: "Oceania." What made you choose this song as an underrated song? Cause it is from a major album. 
 

Elijah: It is a major album, and there's a single for it and everything, but this one really stood out to me. You can hear all the sampling of the backup vocals in the choir. And the sweeping sound of the background vocals and her voice on top of it, it sounds like ocean waves crashing. Her voice sounds like ocean waves crashing into you and like knocking you over, you know.
 

(clip from "Oceania" plays) 
 

Elijah: And she opened up the Olympics with this one. I remember like the opening ceremonies for the 2003 Olympics or something like that. But yeah. And this one, it always gives me goosebumps. Like, I'll put this song on and just her voice. I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it.
 

Savannah: Yeah. I would say this does feel like a gateway into Medulla for me. Cause I have not listened to Medulla as much just because parts of it kind of haven't clicked yet, but um. 
 

Elijah: Don't let the one throat singing track roll you off. There's like the one throat singing track. That's like, I don't want to.
 

Savannah: It's also like the opening track. Like, I dunno, just there's some parts where, and I will say, even in this one, the background vocals that you mentioned. Where it imitates strings really well, which I think is cool, but the sound itself like makes me a little bit anxious.
 

(clip from "Oceania" plays) 
 

Elijah: Yeah. Like I said, it feels like a rollercoaster, like I'm riding waves of Bjork's vocals or something. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, no, I mean, I think I will come to love it.
 

Elijah: Yeah it's underappreciated. Get adjusted to Medulla. Once you get the feeling of Medulla, I'm sure you'll love it. 
 

Savannah: I will say that the beat boxing on these tracks, like this one and the next one we're gonna talk about is like so impressive. That it can really imitate the types of beats that Bjork does.
So, yeah, let's, let's transition now, I guess, into the last one, which is "Who is it?" The bell choir remix.

 

(clip of "Who Is It?" - Bell choir remix) 
 

Savannah: You mentioned you get goosebumps from this song too. What is it about this song? 
 

Elijah: I love the standard track on the album, but this bell choir version, which is like also the music video version, I like a little bit better. It's just I like the bells versus the standard track. 
But on this, I love the lyrics. This is another like "Come to Me" lyrical song. This is not a love song, but it's more of like, "Who is it who never lets you down?" type of lyrics. It's just a very hopeful and lovely song.

 

(clip of "Who Is It?" - Bell choir remix) 
 

Elijah: This may be my own opinion, but I can totally hear like Michael Jackson singing this song. And in my head, I've always wondered, what if Michael Jackson covered this long? Like what it would sound like, because not that she's singing like Michael Jackson or anything like that, but it feels like I could hear Michael Jackson singing in his own inflections. His "hee hee's" and all that stuff. It just feels like a Michael Jackson song. 
 

Savannah: I think I can hear it too. And I don't know if that would have come to mind if you hadn't said it, but I now hear what you mean. I think it might be how this chorus feels very anthemic to me. Like, it feels like something that people are meant to sing along to, and really kind of rally around and that's all of Michael Jackson's---
 

Elijah: Yeah, "handing it over, handing it over, handing it over." Like all of that part.
 

(clip of "Who Is It?" - Bell choir remix) 
 

Savannah: Yeah. Cause I don't think Bjork has that many songs that feel that way, like anthemic, to me. I feel like this one is a little bit unique there. I also hear there is a slight vibrato when she sings "who is it" that I could hear Michael Jackson sing. Cause he does that too. 
 

Elijah: "That never lets you down." That part too. And yeah there's bits in there that definitely give me like Michael Jackson vibes. And I love Michael. 
 

Savannah: Yeah, he has some really great stuff. Um, I'll have to look more into that. I'm curious. Cause I know that "Alarm Call" was inspired by Michael Jackson, but I'm not sure if other songs were. Or maybe she hasn't talked about it and it was just kind of subconscious. 
But I wanted to end with one question, which I like to ask everyone I talk to and it's why does Bjork's music matter to you personally? You've you've mentioned her voice and how you really connect to her voice, but is there anything else that you think causes you to go back to her music again and again, and even want to collect it all? 

 

Elijah: Oh, man. All right. Well, I'll be really honest. And I generally don't talk about this. Um, I've always loved Bjork and Vespertine is definitely my favorite album, but I think that has a lot to do with, I had a friend who tragically died in a car accident just before Vespertine was released. 
Um, and that was obviously like a huge thing for me, really turned my life upside down. And when Vespertine came out, Vespertine just came out at that right time. It was like two months after he passed away. And it was just Vespertine was like, I would say the album that like basically saved my life or, you know, I listened to it every day for like two years. It was just the album that like, I just fell in love with. It was what I needed at that time. And it just helped me through like some really dark times. 
That made me fall in love with Bjork even more than I already did. You know, I had, I had bought all the other albums prior and listened to loved them all, but Vespertine was definitely the one that made me go all in on Bjork.
So I've been trying to tell everybody, listen to Bjork since then.

 

(theme music plays) 

 

Savannah: A huge thank you to Elijah for coming on the show. You can follow him on Instagram @thebjorkcollector.

I hope you discovered a few Bjork songs you’re now going to play on repeat. I know I did. 

Heads up: I made a YouTube playlist of the songs we discussed in this episode. You can find it in the show notes.

Now, listicles are fun, but you know I also like to get in the weeds. So in the next episode, I’ll deconstruct the astrology of “Pluto” with another Bjork fan. I touched on that song a bit in episode 3, but it’s worth a closer listen. Look for that in your feeds in two weeks.