I’ll admit, I overlooked Biophilia too, when initially released. I didn’t have an iPad at the time (2011), and have always been so wary of “mix it yourself” scenarios (I pay to hear the artist’s work, not my own) that I let myself forget that underneath this grand interactive/multimedia project was still a new Björk album. Finally, I went and listened to it late last year, and, well…wow. Not easy listening, but incredible listening—although as a full album experience, probably not for everyone (example: three of the songs are in 17/8 time). To my ears, she has bridged the worlds of “composition” and “pop” with singular mastery, unifying the worlds of the electronic and the organic in the process. So unique, creative, and determined an artist is Björk she even oversaw the invention of new instruments for the album.
While hardly a standard pop song, “Cosmogony” is one of the lovelier, more immediately welcoming pieces on the album. A slightly unruly swell of female voices provides the ether in which this song expands, while the lyrics offer an endearing sequence of creation stories, the Big Bang merely one among them. Through some alchemical combination of music and voice and lyric and sound, Björk manages to draw a large enough circle of life with this song to contain even the apparent polarities of science and magic, giving simultaneous context both to the limits of our knowledge and to the beauty of our spirits. The song moves me so deeply I feel unequipped to tease it apart, but for three tiny instructions/clarifications. First, what she’s saying at the beginning of each verse (and there is no chorus) is: “Heaven, heaven’s bodies/Whirl around me/Make me wonder.” When listening, I could not discern the word “bodies” in there; I finally looked up the lyrics. Second, listen to how she pronounces the word “egg” at 1:46. Lastly, I love her voice so much I even love how she breathes (see 1:05, after “cunning mate”). When Björk is on her game, as here, her song/compositions are so ripe with vitality that they burst with pleasure both vertically (listening to how, at any given moment, the layers interact and communicate to us) and horizontally—listening to how any one of these layers is itself a rich experience (as, for instance, are the aforementioned backing vocals; likewise the evocative, nearly miraculous bass playing).
“Cosmogony” is one of many viscerally artful and luminous songs on the underrated Biophilia. I eventually did get an iPad, and the Biophilia app, but nothing I could do while interacting with it introduced me to the glory of the music better than simply sitting and listening to it. Which, stupidly, I didn’t do for a long time. I mean to take nothing away from Björk’s impressive vision—the original Biophilia project encompassed not just the song/apps, but also a web site, a documentary, and a series of live performances, including educational workshops for kids. But I kind of recommend just listening to the thing. I’m not exactly sure when this “Cosmogony” free and legal MP3 went online at Epitonic, but I only recently discovered it there, and so, better late than never, here you are.