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'Post' at 25: How Björk Brought Her Ageless Sophomore Album To Life

Björk in The Netherlands in 1995

Photo: Michel Linssen/Redferns

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'Post' at 25: How Björk Brought Her Ageless Sophomore Album To Life

Released in June 1995, 'Post' remains a kinetic and exhilarating reflection of the experimental pop artist's London years

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2020 - 02:00 pm

The name Björk conjures some well-worn images. She's the otherworldly artist whose album rollouts resemble large-scale art projects. She's the avant-garde fashion maven who smiled serenely in the "swan dress" at the 2001 Oscars. And yes, she's the eternal kook selling a box set of 14 handmade bird-call flutes to complement her 2017 album, Utopia

But there's a relatable image often missed in all the mythmaking: Björk in her late-20s, a wide-eyed new arrival in London, still at the grimy nightclub when the lights come on. 

Born Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the singer moved from her native Iceland to London in the early '90s. Single in the big city with a young son, Sindri, the musician was eager for new experiences. London's sound clash of electronic music promised endless possibilities. 

Björk went headlong into the nighttime world of the city, sampling jungle, drum & bass, house and techno. Not all of it connected. "Ninety-five percent of the dance music you hear today is crap," she told Rolling Stone in 1993. "It's only that experimental five percent that I'm into — the records that get played in clubs after seven o'clock in the morning, when the DJs are playing stuff for themselves, rather than trying to please people." 

Gradually, Björk met her people. She found kindred spirits in Graham Massey, founding member of Manchester acid house innovators 808 State, and Nellee Hooper, a sound system veteran known for his work with Soul II Soul. Out of this creative awakening came Björk's Debut, in 1993, and its astonishing follow-up, Post, which turned 25 this June. 

In her formative years, Björk played in rock bands, but she was never a rock loyalist. Growing up in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík, she learned the country's folk songs from her grandmother. After her parents divorced early in her life, Björk moved between the domains of her straight-laced electrician father and free-spirited activist mother. 

In spite of splitting her time between parents, she was always surrounded by music. Her mother couldn't afford an oboe, so Björk learned the flute instead. On the long walks to and from school, she honed her remarkable singing voice. She released an album at 11 years old and found success in the Icelandic alt-rock group, The Sugarcubes. (Her former husband and father to her son, Sindri, was the band's guitarist.)

But Björk was unfulfilled, and 808 State's Graham Massey represented a new path. On Björk's request, the pair met in London to discuss beats. She liked the uncommercial approach to electronic music he’d honed in Manchester’s acid house scene; he was floored by her spine-tingling voice. Björk had arrangements for two songs, "Army Of Me" and "The Modern Things," that needed some edge. They finished "Army Of Me" in an afternoon, with Björk tinkering on a pocket sequencer while Massey perfected a giant bass riff. (Meanwhile, Björk appeared as a vocalist on 808 State's 1991 album, ex:el, and brought the band to Reykjavík to play the songs live.)

Björk also found a creative groove with Nellee Hooper, a former member of the Bristol DJ collective The Wild Bunch turned GRAMMY-winning superproducer for the likes of U2, Sinead O'Connor and Gwen Stefani, among others. Björk and Hooper shared a vision for a complete concept, which would later become her aptly titled 1993 debut album, Debut. (The Massey-assisted "Army Of Me" and "The Modern Things" were shelved for later use.) Produced by Björk and Hooper alone, Debut cleanly broke ties with the singer's rock past and instead welcomed trip-hop, house and synth-pop into her sound.

In the afterglow of Debut, Björk went deeper into London club culture. She wanted her next album to reflect the restless pulse and possibilities of her newly adopted home. "Most acts were putting out seven-inches with throwaway lyrics like, 'Ooh, baby, baby,'" Massey told Paper Magazine in 1997. "But Björk took that culture and made an album with poetic lyrics. It blew everyone away. She never tried to fit in with any electronic movement, she just took the ideas and got personal with it." 

That "poetic" album was Post. On its cover, Björk looks out from a heightened Piccadilly Circus in London's West End. Her jacket, designed by art world favorite Hussein Chalayan, resembles a U.K. Airmail envelope. (Björk, a frequent shopper at London's acid-house-inspired fashion store Sign Of The Times, already had designer cred.) 

On nights out, Björk had got to know Hooper's friends, including Massive Attack collaborator Tricky and Scottish producer Howie B. With input from her nocturnal cohort, Björk was determined to make Post much more riotous than Debut

Björk left the hustle of London to begin work on Post at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. The stories from those sessions are pure, uncut Björk excess. She used extra-long leads on her microphone and headphones to record at the ocean's edge. She sang "Cover Me" in a cave full of bats. On a side trip to Iceland, she swam in hot springs and admired glaciers with Tricky. (The pair briefly dated, but as Tricky put it bluntly to self-titled years later, "I wasn't a good boyfriend.") 

Back in London, Björk continued to hone Post, reaching for a balance between organic sounds and machine-made elements. In the final stretch, she coaxed Brazilian composer Eumir Deodato from semi-retirement to help fill out the sound. At last, Post was ready for the world. 

Albums often open with something moody and instrumental to set the tone. Post is not that kind of album. From the first moment, "Army Of Me" is all crunching propulsion, its shoulder-shaking lyrics sparked by Björk's sometimes-wayward younger brother. ("It's sort of a 'big sister telling little brother off' song," she told Stereogum in 2008.) 

From the jump, Post refuses to sit still. No two tracks can be easily grouped. "Hyperballad" is somehow a few songs in one five-minute package: equal parts acid house and Deodato's swelling strings, with a virtuoso vocal performance that combines innocent wonder and furious catharsis. 

There's no greater example of the album's tonal shifts than "It's Oh So Quiet" into "Enjoy." The former became the album’s biggest hit—its visual was nominated for Best Music Video, Short Form at the 1996 GRAMMYs, alongside a Best Alternative Music Performance nod for Post. But awards glory was never in the plan. "It was the last song we did,” Björk told Stereogum of "It's Oh So Quiet." "Just to make absolutely certain the album would be as schizophrenic as possible."

All these years later, "It's Oh So Quiet" remains an uninhibited thrill. While reverent to the 1951 version by Betty Hutton, itself a powerhouse, the song's ecstatic Björk-ness cuts through the throwback big-band sound, building from a whisper to gale-force theatrics. 

"Enjoy" then switches the setting from wartime revue to Bristol basement club. Created with Tricky—who released his masterful debut album, Maxinquaye, in the same year—"Enjoy" is scuffed and oppressive in the best way. In short: This ain't a show tune. 

On "Isobel," written with Icelandic poet Sjón, Björk reached for, as she later told Stereogum, a "heightened mythical state." The song sounds like scaling a glacier and singing to the stars. But Post never lets you pin Björk as an ethereal, unknowable pixie. She also does "normal people" things, like getting too drunk and staying out until sunrise. (Hungover Björk interviews were a theme of the mid-'90s. "I come from a country where from the age of 15 you drink one liter of vodka every Friday straight from the bottle," she told SPIN in 1997.)

She also knows a messy breakup as well as anyone. So from the astral plane of "Isobel" we go to "Possibly Maybe," a lovelorn, but still wry slowburner. You picture it sung late at night in a London apartment, far from the warmth of the Bahamas. 

"I Miss You," the final single released from Post, is the synthesis of all its wild instincts. There's so much here: horns, relentless percussion, a skittering, curving beat and Björk in blistering form. But the excess works. "Cover Me" and then "Headphones," written as an ode to Graham Massey's mixtapes, provide the album's gentle comedown. By the hushed final moments of Björk singing about sleep, you forget how furiously Post began. 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact influence of Björk's Post over the past 25 years. Forever on the move, the 15-time GRAMMY nominee has never been defined by one album alone. 

After a nightmarish 1996, which included a scuffle with a journalist and a bomb threat from a stalker, Björk decamped to Spain to record a follow-up to Post. Released in 1997, the brilliant Homogenic was more unified and consciously Icelandic than its predecessors. 

Homogenic set a precedent for an artistic reinvention by the singer every few years. As a result, other artists tend to credit the totality of Björk's output, rather than a single album, as inspirational. Most avoid her name at all: Citing a talent as vast and singular as Björk can only invite unfair comparisons. 

Over the decades since Post, Björk has made a habit of working with artists she's inspired. "That's the good thing with being so obsessed with music," she told the Evening Standard in 2016, "you've always got other nerds who are obsessing, too. It's kind of ageless." 

In recent years, those collaborators have included experimental electronic producers The Haxan Cloak and Arca as well as art-pop original ANOHNI. Throughout her many creative partnerships, Björk has battled sexist notions of authorship. "It's always like I'm this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home," she vented to the Evening Standard

Contemporary singer-songwriters Jenny Hval and Mitski openly worship Björk, both jumping at the chance to interview their hero for a Dazed feature in 2017. Other parallels can be reductive. Shapeshifting singer FKA twigs, for one, is often cited as Björk-like. While the pair share a collaborator in music video visionary Andrew Thomas Huang, the comparison is a too-easy catch-all for women skirting traditional pop. 

In the 25 years since its release, Post has come to represent something wider than Björk's specific viewpoint. It's the best possible outcome of a timeless conceit: the transplant intoxicated by a new city, channeling their experiences and anxieties into art. In an era when cities are siloed and flights are grounded, Post feels impossibly romantic. 

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.