Björk Guðmundsdóttir, better known simply as Björk, is an Icelandic singer/songwriter that takes influences spanning from different genres to blend seamlessly into one single package. Björk first cut her teeth in the music world at just the age of 11, with her first release becoming a conglomerate of different cover tracks of popular songs of the 60’s and 70’s. Unknown to Björk at the time, but this would become the substantial stepping stone into the now international music star from humble beginnings.
Her first international solo record, Debut was actually the third record that Björk had released under that moniker. The first would be under the same title of Debut, reaching back into 1977, where it first released to the public. Her second release would be a dual-act album with tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar where Björk performed the vocals, and tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar would perform the instrumentation of the record. This would then lead finally into Debut released in 1993; adapting varying levels of ethnic and international style, Debut proved to further instill Björk outlandish taste in both vocal performance and sound. With a rather eccentric and progressive tone, Debut became Björk’s best selling album to date and the signs were not hard to miss.
Debut opens with the track “Human Behaviour,” a stylish jungle like jazz track that uses a constant snare rattle and grand timpani drums to make up the percussion aspect of the track. This sound is also accompanied to a bass line that keeps a steady groove while supporting the rest of the instruments that continue to stride on, until reaching where Björk makes her first vocal debut on the album. She opens with the line, “If you ever get close to a human and human behavior, be ready, be ready to get confused.” The track makes a substantial note on the perplexing nature of humans and how they can constantly change when put in situations through life. Human attraction and emotion is the central theme of Debut, entire tracks like “Human Behaviour,” “Like Someone in Love,” and “Come To Me” are songs where the lyrics just simply jump out and state the attraction to human nature and mankind.
Björk presents her voice in such a way that she borders on the line of angelic, a sheer sense of bravado, but also a matter of intimacy and gentleness is also present which, makes Björk both beautiful, but deadly as well. This is the case for the primary sound of Debut and the instrumentation is built around Björk’s outstanding voice. There is not an overpowering level of instruments within any of the tracks, but they are substantial enough to work on their own without casting a shadow on Björk in anyway. This is immediately present in the following track “Crying,” where it becomes a dance-like trance style but never takes the reigns or the spotlight.
The instruments instead work in tandem with Björk and allows the listener to get a sense of both the pop style that Debut primarily focused on, but also gives way for more of a strange use of experimentation that makes for some ultimately intriguing tracks. “Crying” uses a boom-clap two-step style of percussion beat in the background and a bouncing piano that works simultaneously with Björk’s stellar performance where she explains, “I travel all around the city, go in and out of locomotives, all alone. There’s no one here, and people everywhere.” Björk uses a sense of separation but also the juxtaposition of the seemingly “happy” style of instrumentation to create an interesting contrast within her music. There is a level of dance-club style where the listener can vibe out to the instrumental, but when reading deeper in the lyrics, Björk actually tells a tale of detachment and dissociation from society.
This then leads into the following track, “Venus As a Boy.” A synth-bell like opening mixed with a subtle bass line spawns the robust, yet complicated instrumental where string ensembles are present and creates a beauty behind the rather clunky sounding bells. Björk’s vocal performance is simply lovely and is wonderful when paired with the charming instrumentation. She hits high-notes and then quickly segues into the chorus before leaping right back into these almost unreachable levels of high-notes. Björk delivers more of a sensual depiction of “Venus As a Boy” where she tells the story of, “[He’s] exploring the taste of her arousal, so accurate. He sets off the beauty in her, He’s Venus, Venus as a boy.” The instrumentation and Björk’s voice then slowly trail off and lead into the next, more energetic track.
“There’s More To Life Than This” is a track that was actually recorded live at The Milk Bar Venue in London, England. The live version creates an additional level of listener-involvement as Björk halfway through the track, takes the microphone into the restroom of The Milk Bar and begins to finish her second verse all alone in the toilet stall. The instrumental for this track, while not nearly as experimental as the live vocal performance, is a steady, booming clap beat that results in a clash of hi-hats and synth chords. Björk delivers the line, “We could nick a boat and sneak off to this island. I could bring my little ghetto-blaster, There’s more to life than this,” before rushing back to the stage to deliver the final rephrase of the chorus where she explains, “You know that there’s more to life than this?” The track than sounds like it is pushed out the door and instantly seeps into the lovelier sounding track, “Like Someone In Love.”
Paired with a harp from American Jazz Musician, Corky Hale; Björk walks hand-in-hand with the beauty of the harp and delivers her strongest performance on Debut. The harp and Björk’s voice create such an unmeasurable amount of wonder within “Like Someone In Love” and there are also little samples of voices talking and waves crashing as a way to further improve the loving mood of the track. Björk delivers gentle lines explaining, “Sometimes the things I do astound me, Mostly whenever you’re around me. Lately, I seem to walk as though I have wings.” Hale the delivers an absolutely stunning solo-performance and while creating a dreamlike-state, it still acts as a progressive moving piece and most simply, a beautiful way to break up the mostly dance style of Debut.
Björk then leaps back into the flashier-club style with “Big Time Sensuality,” while pop-sounding, the track balances on the subject of the future. She explains, “It takes courage to enjoy it. The hardcore and the gentle, big time sensuality. I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to.” All while the instrumental gradually builds up with a simple, two-step beat and a cymbal line that borders on a swing beat. It becomes more in-depth when the synth kicks in with these stylish and outgoing chords that strike rapidly and dissipate quickly, allowing the rest of the instrumental to follow Björk’s vocal lead. While she is the primary vocalist on Debut, she does have a solo of sorts where she uses a scat style of singing where she completely improvises these wonderful deep howls that rival her usual sense of melodic and organized style of vocalization.
There are also some horns that suddenly make an appearance right before the track succumbs to a steady silence, but only for a brief moment before running into “One Day.”
The first sounds on “One Day” can only be described as a small child’s babble that has to be in a similar relation to Björk’s son who was only seven at the time of Debut’s release. Throughout the track there are several samples of a child’s voice and different childhood sounds that echo behind the bass heavy instrumental paired with Björk’s softly-spoken voice. She sings, “One day, it will happen. One day, one day, it will all come true.” While the track stays at a consistent, shuffle-like tone, there is still a moment where “One Day” features more of a bounce to it and includes chimes that insert a new level of depth into the already complex style of instrumental present. Then as it fades out, waves crashing and a gentle oceanic sound slowly fades in.
This then leads into the first sounds of “Aeroplane,” an exotic sounding track that uses a mismatch of horns to set the first level of instruments in the track. There is then a sudden pause in the sound where a suspended cymbal opens the instruments into more of a jungle like slither where the drums are more of a tribal style, and there is an additional level of backing vocals behind Björk that only contribute to the primal sound. “Aeroplane” then jumps back into a horn and swing section for a few moments, only to come straight back into the slithering style paired with large bass drums and varying level of saxophones that faze in and out of the spotlight of the track. Surprisingly, this works well and is the highlight of the track, even as Björk still controls the vocal aspect, her instrumentation that supports her is outstanding as well.
Björk again touches upon the subject of love and human attraction, “How come out of all the people in the world, only one can make me complete? One word, one word on the phone makes me happy. One touch, but one touch directly makes me ecstatic.” She then leads the track to a gloomier style with the lyrics, “He’s away, this ain’t right. I’m alone, I’m taking an Aeroplane across the world to follow my heart.” There is a sense of duality within her lyrics as it purposes the despair she experiences when alone, but then the inspiration she takes when making a journey to meet her one true love.
Almost in perfect sequencing, “Come To Me” trails behind and is one of the softer tracks on Debut, but still a substantial piece nonetheless. The instrumental is a percussion and bass focused rhythm section that relies on a swing-style of eight notes on the cymbals and a simple four bar bass line that repeats continuously along with hints of a piano that plays a lovely addition of higher notes in juxtaposition to the lower tuned notes of the bass. Björk also delivers another beautiful performance that allows her to proudly sing, “You know that I adore you, you know that I love you.” The ending act of the track uses a jungle style of drums similar to bongos or congas, where they play along with the other forms of the rhythm section until finally dwindling away in “Violently Happy.”
Through gradual to start, “Violently Happy” takes a sudden leap off into the deep end where a synthesizer leads the track into a clap beat and a two-step dance section that relies on a steady bass line beat. There is also a second bass line that shines through but instead acts as a background instrument rather than its own significant part. Björk provides a subtle vocal performance for the opening of the track where she softly sings, “Since I met you, this small town hasn’t got room for my feelings.” Then as “Violently Happy” begins to pick up speed, Björk then provides the chorus of the track, “Violently happy, cause I love you. Violently happy, but you’re not here… I tip-toe down to the shore, stand by the ocean. Make it roar at me, and I roar back.” Björk then becomes increasingly unstable in her lyrics as she then explains, “Violently happy, I’m daring people to jump off roofs with me. Only you can calm me down, I’m aiming too high, soothe me.”
This then leads to the final chapter of Debut, “The Anchor Song” which, is a featured piece that borders on both jazz and spoken word. It includes a great amount of horns and what sounds similarly to an accordion to create the instrumental of the track. Björk delivers another stellar performance where she almost cries, “I live by the ocean, and during the night. I dive into it, down to the bottom. Underneath all currents and drop my anchor, this is where I’m staying, this is my home.” There is almost a level of sorrow behind both Björk’s words and the instrumental. It sounds somber and disorganized, almost like a siren song that sends Björk on her last journey. The horns are incredibly powerful and are the perfect send-off into the now third-debut project from Björk.