8. Bjork's mostly a capella album Medúlla isn't consistently enjoyable, to me; I find the most outré vocal styles unbearable, and feel unable to judge its worth as avant garde art because I (frankly) can't make it through the damn thing. Its best song, though, is far and away my favourite Bjork song ever, an infectious bit of skittering yearning out-on-the-savannah dance-pop called 'Who Is It'. The whole song is strong, from its otherworldly opening chord-that-is-almost-not-a-chord to the geothermal bass synth to Rahzel's Tourettic first-take beatboxing, with Bjork's uncanny harmonies and bird noises swooping above it all, soundtrack to a flyover of uninhabited lands. But the best moment, the one that elevates the song from great (but odd) pop to transporting personal experience, comes in the middle of the second verse. The clacking syncopated 'rimshots' of the first chorus have given away to wet whispering cymbal sounds from Rahzel, and the only accompaniment to Bjork's broadening lead vocal line is a bouncing-ball bassline: a neat little tumbling filigree around the major seventh. Bjork's voice almost trembles as she sings:
He demands a closeness
We all have earned a lightness
When in a kind of harmonic reprieve, the bass swoops into a moaning chromatic line, Rahzel's frenetic bass/snare drumming returns, eerie harmonies fill in just above Bjork's melody, and just a hint of cold metal creeps into the lead vocal as she sings these lines:
Carry my joy on the left
Carry my pain on the right
...and the elusive melody is landing God for fucking finally on the chest-rattling downbeats on 'joy' and 'left' and 'pain' and 'right', a kind of slow-motion implied march, monstrous and against all laws of nature without going faster it's accelerating somehow. In barbershop singing the goal of the ensemble is to multiply the voices through resonance and tuning, so that the sound redoubles in fullness and intensity without the singers raising the volume of their voices; the same sort of feeling hits me as Bjork seems to lose hold of the outer edge of her voice just slightly, 'Carry my joy on the left,' sneaking toward the listener, before the Joyous Memorial Acclamation of the Primitive chorus arrives, 'Who is it?' The song evokes the creeping beauty/anxiety of 'Hyper-ballad', with that same gathering of intensity in the short lead-in to the chorus, same twittering background noises, same rounding-upward vocals on the refrain's direct address to some unseen listener or lover - but 'Who Is It' has a naked major-chord excitement that the melancholy 'Hyper-ballad' lacks. It should come as no surprise that the various official remixes of 'Who Is It' don't capture the ecstatic momentum of the original; any change that brought the song more indoors would cut against its weird wild atmosphere. Beach or forest or cliffside, makes no difference really: like Talking Heads' 'Nothing But Flowers', it wants to be played outdoors. Some songs the wind was made to sing along it seems.