Bjork’s albums over the last 20 years or so have been epic journeys, deep in innovation and imagination, but often not exactly approachable — sort of like a James Joyce novel, the listener is constantly trying (and usually failing) to get a foothold. None of which is a criticism: She’s one of the most brilliant artists the music world has produced in the past 35 years, but there is the occasional wish for something that isn’t quite so much work, something as gloriously accessible as a ”Hyper-Ballad” or “Human Behavior” or “New World” or “Joga” or even “All Is Full of Love.”
On Tuesday, “Oral,” a duet with Spanish singer Rosalia that is her most engaging song in years, was released in the unlikely form of a statement to support action against intensive salmon farming: The song “aims to shed light on the alarming cruelty, and severe environmental and ecological consequences of open-pen ocean salmon farming in Björk’s native country, Iceland,” according to the announcement.
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However, the song’s lyrics do not directly address the issue and seem more personal: “Your mouth floats above my bed at night/ My own private moon,” it begins, and continues in a similar vein, as the two unspool a lovely melody that recalls Bjork’s “Homogenic” era as an electronic beat kicks in and an orchestra bursts wide on the glorious chorus, which actually evokes a clouds-parting moment in an epic film.
The resemblance to Bjork’s earlier material is no accident: According to the announcement, she first wrote the song in the period between 1997’s “Homogenic” and 2001’s “Vespertine” albums, but “the track was lost to her archives after feeling like it wasn’t the right fit for an album. Björk rediscovered the song after being reminded of its name whilst on tour in Australia in March 2023, the same month a report was released about the devastating impact of poorly regulated, Norwegian-owned commercial salmon farming operations on Iceland’s native ecosystems.”
The announcement continues below:
After deeply resonating with the cause, and as a passionate campaigner and protester for much of her life, Björk enlisted Rosalía to help bring the song to life and in turn raise awareness of the issue. The cruel practice of open-pen farming, introduced to Iceland after Norwegian businessmen began purchasing fish farms in the country’s fjords, involves intensively farming fish by penning them into open water nets that are anchored in natural waterways, where the fish are kept enclosed until they reach marketable size. This accelerates the fish’s development and in many cases creates genetic mutations in the salmon’s DNA, as well as being a breeding ground for a number of parasites and diseases. The industry in Iceland has grown tenfold since 2014, producing under 4,000 tones to 45,000 in 2021, with it now estimated that the annual production could be up to 106,500 tonnes. Iceland has the largest untouched natural area in Europe, and the waste and pollution associated with open-pen farming threatens to permanently damage its entire ocean ecology. Lack of regulation and the industry being largely unsupervised has also meant that thousands of these genetically altered, diseased salmon regularly escape the pens and swim upriver to Iceland’s highlands, where devastating genetic mixing occurs and endangers the future of Iceland’s wild salmon population.
We want to thank visual artist Carlota Guerrero and executive producer Zico Judge, of Blur & ProdCo, for creating a video art piece to go along with this song and help raise awareness of the cruelty, and severe environmental and ecological consequences of open-pen ocean salmon farming in Björk’s native country, Iceland. Carlota came up with the concept and executed the video, exploring the use of AI technology and embracing the glitches blurring the line between reality and virtuality whilst challenging the notions of identity. Throughout the piece, female rage is explored through Bjork’s and Rosalía’s avatars. They are not fighting each other; they are training together to fight the real and bigger enemy.
Proceeds from “Oral” will be used to support a legal case against the fisheries, brought forth by residents of the town of Seyðisfjörður on the eastern side of Iceland. Read the statement on behalf of all involved below.
You can learn more about Icelandic Fish Farming from the Icelandic Wildlife Fund.
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