A quarter century later, the former Sugarcube’s sophomore masterpiece still has the power to transport its listeners to a better place
“My headphones, they saved my life” Björk sings in the last song — “Headphones” — on her second album, Post released in June of 1995.
Life — and our society — is in a hyper state of upheaval and music, with its power to transcend us to another realm, may be part of our healing. Björk’s lyrics remind us that all the hurt and pain and filth of life has always been there, and it’s our job to figure out how to endure, rise above, be the change. Björk has always possessed an otherworldly quality, as if she knows some secrets of the universe and her music — with its eclectic mix of every kind of note and style smashed together — is life, death, and rebirth, taking listeners around the moon, into orbit, beyond the stratosphere, and back again. Post was and still is magic. Right now, with the reality of a global pandemic and another black man being murdered by police, it feels like more magic is needed.
When Post was released in June of ‘95, Björk was 29 years old and seemed to know everything. In ‘95, I was a 22-year-old college student completely unsure of what I wanted in my future (or present), feeling perpetually lost and searching for my people. I was a moody, angst-filled sort-of adult. I had just moved to a new town — New Paltz, NY — nestled in the Hudson Valley and found myself suddenly surrounded in a vortex of beautiful creativity. The air was fluid and showcased moments of intensity and introspection unlike anything I had experienced before. I was discovering. I was being discovered.
Post reflected a major move for Björk as well — from her hometown in Iceland to London. My kinship with the album deepened with the similarities of change, of movement, of emotions. While I wasn’t making music, it was my journal that was filled with sentiments much like Post’s lyrics — death and darkness, light and love, all with delicate subtleties as well as blunt exclamations. Some things never change.
Post boasts a heavy techno influence with jazz, folk, and house blended in most delightfully; she’s always been in a category of her own, inimitable. Her creative use of technology, however, isn’t lacking emotion and instead it’s connective, deep.
Listening to Post now, in a world (still) filled with painful injustices and COVID-19, makes every song feel deeper. Björk, a seer, delivering messages to uncode for decades. I still own the original disc I bought in college — Björk’s music could never be a throw-away because these feelings, these emotions that erupt from listening to these songs harken everything old and yet everything new. I still know all the words (except the Icelandic ones I always faked). I’m still magically transported to Björk’s world upon listening, which is engulfed with dire and dreamy situations; it’s a melancholy happy, a fairy-like blessing of hope and rage and passion and complete madness holding a bouquet of pink peonies, which bloom now … early June.
The opening track, “Army of Me”, begins with a smashing screech and blast before beginning its mesmerizing beat. “Stand up / you’ve got to manage / I won’t sympathize anymore / If you complain once more / you’ll meet an army of me.”
“Hyperballad” might be one of the brightest darkest songs — a tale of sacrifices in relationships and fantasizing of tragic circumstances. “Imagine what my body would sound like / slamming against those rocks.” It’s that all too familiar feeling of being safe but uncertain.
“Modern Things”, which Björk belts out in both English and Icelandic, shows the depth of her insight. “All the modern things / Like cars and such / Have always existed / They’ve just been waiting in a mountain / For the right moment.”
Then there is the cover of Betty Hutton’s 1951 song, “It’s Oh So Quiet”, with the scream and the orchestra, that seemed to be everywhere in 1995. Still, the song had its place. It was as if it was the reprieve from the turmoil, shining the kind of lightness I’d imagine one would feel from seeing a peppy Broadway musical.
VIDEO: Björk “It’s Oh So Quiet”
After that cheeriness, Björk embarks on the darkest song with the happiest of titles, “Enjoy”. That’s the beauty of Björk — the unexpectedness sense of surprise without being jarring even when she screams, it’s warranted and welcome. “Enjoy” captures that wanting and longing that 22-year-old me thought she understood but the 47-year-old me really, really does.
Each song blends to the next perfectly. “You’ve Been Flirting Again”, “Isobel”, “Possibly Maybe”, and “I Miss You” are all dichotomous, being sure and unsure, with that dance between dark and light and back again that Björk captures so well. Each song captivates. Each song had me so tuned in and yet still lost in thought.
In “Cover Me” she sings how she’s going to prove the impossible really exists. I wanted to believe that then. I so badly want to believe that now. Björk is mysticism, making the impossible feel possible.
When I saw Björk in October of 2001 in NYC while she was on tour for Vespertine, it was a religious experience. I — the country, but especially NYC — was raw with emotions just after 9/11. Björk performed with a full orchestra and young angels singing backup. I cried the whole time.
And now, I find myself at this point in time, crying daily over the uncertainty in this world due to a pandemic and the injustices against black people in America. COVID-19 is showing those injustices, revealing the systemic racism even more, and it has all further exploded by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
The state of the world feels so different now than it did 25 years ago. The state of my mind has grown exponentially and is always striving to learn even more. And listening to this album again, really taking it in at a time like now, I am so focused on two distinct sentences within her lyrics: “My headphones, they saved my life” and “I’m going to prove the impossible really exists.”
What Björk is saying, because we have to dig beneath the surface of her words (she is not a surface level kind of person), is that focused and intent listening is what saves lives. Not just music. Listening. Listening to the song of others, their words, their feelings, their plight. This is the only thing that will save us all lest we just continue to cry ourselves to eternal sleep.
That’s not what the seer wants. That’s not what the crystal ball of Björk details. She’s urging change by stepping into the darkness to get to the light. It’s working to get out of the struggle by coming out of our safe zones. The impossible exists, if we listen, if we truly hear.
Thank you for your enlightenment, Björk. I’m listening.
- My Headphones, They Saved My Life: Björk’s Post at 25 - June 15, 2020