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Volta (Atlantic)

Björk's last few albums were too polite. The ice-crystal percussion and melodies on Vespertine were stunning but mannered, while the nearly a cappella Medùlla -- where beatboxing and throat-singing replaced traditional instrumentation -- lacked the mischief of previous pop experiments.

Thankfully, Björk's gleeful sense of adventure is back on Volta. Collaborators like Timbaland, Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale, and the Congolese band Konono N°1 makes the record come alive -- from the going-to-battle anxiety of "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" to the alien drum-circle whirl of "Earth Intruders." On "Declare Independence," she even sounds downright dangerous, screaming, "Raise your flag! Declare independence! Don't let them do that to you!"

Still, those hoping for a carbon copy of Post or Homogenic will be somewhat disappointed. Volta is equally ornate, but the songs generally lack brevity and a willingness to conform to traditional pop structures, meaning some of them are too long. But the big difference is that Björk seems to feel completely comfortable in her creative skin, a nonchalance that allows her beautiful quirkiness to burst forth joyfully.

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