Bjork plays well with others. For her sixth studio album, “Volta” (due this week via Elektra/Atlantic), the Icelandic artist collaborated with longtime partner-in-music Mark Bell, Congolese outfit Konono No. 1, Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons), Malian musician Toumani Diabate, hip-hip guru Timbaland, Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen and others.
“Since I was a child, singing and writing melodies have always been quite a solitary process,” Bjork says. “More and more, since I’ve become savvier on the computer, I spend perhaps 90% of the time working on the album alone. So, collaborations are the treat at the end of the stick.
Yet no matter who Bjork works with, she still enjoys following the beats and rhythms of her own beautifully off-kilter drum. The array of musical instruments on “Volta” encompasses a Chinese lute, French horns, a brass band and, Bjork being Bjork, major slabs of electronic programming. Aggressive instrumentation intertwines with suspenseful cinematic rushes, but there are also quiet and meditative moments like “Pneumonia,” which builds and builds with no release. Bjork says she wrote the song at the piano in one take, after seeing the film “Pan’s Labyrinth” — and after having pneumonia for two weeks.
While lyrics on “Volta” frequently veer toward motherhood and religion, other tracks could very well have been ripped from today’s headlines. One of the latter — the war-themed “Earth Intruders” — recently made headlines of its own. One of three Timbaland collaborations on “Volta,” it became the first Bjork track to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 in 13 years, since “Big Time Sensuality” in 1994.