Thursday, August 7, 2014

Telegram From Bjork! Techno-Dance Remixes Make No Better An Album!

The Good: Moments of mildly interesting sound/voice
The Bad: Much of the album is utter noise, Lyrics are mostly indecipherable, Generic overproduced music, Dull
The Basics: Bjork whispers and growls her way through eleven songs remixed by others in ways that are largely traditional dance/techno remixes that bore the listener.

I will never be the chair of the Bjork fan club. I mean never, like if Armageddon came and the only beings left on Earth were Bjork, me and a tortoise that was impaled on flaming lobster claws, the tortoise would have a better chance of getting the position of fan club president to keep Bjork going. I've listened to four Bjork albums now and because I am reviewing them in chronological order, it might seem premature that I'm saying I don't like the music of Icelandic techno-alternative musician Bjork, but the truth is, I find it to be almost all utterly awful. I admire creativity in general, but with Telegram, a collection of remixed versions of Bjork songs, I've no problem saying that even the concept and creativity is gone. Bjork's music held up poorly on many of her albums the first time around; giving others a crack at it did not improve it.

With eleven tracks clocking in at 51:26, Telegram represents the culmination of weirdness in music; what happens when eleven artists take on Bjork's music and remix it. In the interest of full disclosure, this is a very pure listen on my part; I had not heard the original mixes of any of these tracks and thus, this is not a comparison between what was and what they became on Telegram, but rather exactly what appears on Telegram.

Overall, the album is a mess of techno-dance tracks and there is little to discuss as far as originality on this album. It seems like the pretty standard concepts for remixing tracks all come up on this album. Put a dance beat to it, electronically alter the voice, swap out instruments, add a rap, etc. The pretenses and conceits of the very standard remix all appear on these various tracks, making it far less original than a normal Bjork album.

Truth be told, Telegram gets off to a horrible start in this respect. "Possibly Maybe (Lucy Mix)" opens the album with electronic-altered vocals that take Bjork's voice and make it sound like a computerized hamster . . . being electrocuted. While other artists, like Moby, computerize vocals, the Lucy Mix takes it to such an extreme that it passes outside music and becomes a techno track that is almost indecipherable. The meaning of the lyrics is lost in the effect of making the track into something that is more produced than authentic.

As far as meaning goes, "Hyperballad (Brodsky Quartet Version)" is a real upper. Bjork sings of trying to keep mentally healthy and balanced and the exercises her musical protagonist goes through to achieve that. In the course of the song, she looks out from at the view from the mountaintop, contemplates physical objects in the rooms, but then she is ". . . still throwing things off / I listen to the sounds they make on their way down / I follow with my eyes until they crash / I imagine what my body would sound like / Slamming against those rocks . . ." ("Hyperballad"). It's cheerful lyrics like that that make one wonder why the track was remixed. To be fair, the Brodsky Quartet does an exceptional job with the strings in their version, creating actual music to accompany the creepy and surreal lines.

Musically, "Enjoy (Further Over Free Mix)" feels very much like a remix, with the percussion entirely performed with static. Yes, instead of drum beats, there is throbbing static that keeps the time and it is a technique I've heard on later Bjork albums and while I applaud the originality, between the static sound and the repeated line that opens the track, this is just a dull song.

And when Bjork and her remixers are not being dull, they are back to being quite purely weird. "My Spine" is performed with what sounds like cow bells (it is actually a series of exhaust pipes!) and fronts Bjork's surreal lilting voice. The truly esoteric aspect of Bjork's singing is that she does not quite have English pronunciations down right and as a result, there are elongated vowels and y's come out with a dj sound ("your" becomes "djour"). And this is another track where Bjork growls, which is not my favorite thing. The result is Bjork singing about her resolve and the song is an oddity, very purely Bjork.

I will say, though, that the dance track "I Miss You (Dobie Rub Part One-Sunshine Mix)" which is in many ways a very traditional mix, actually sounds good and it pretty much rocks. Bjork quite clearly provides the lyrics which open with a very simple, "I miss you / But I haven't met you yet" ("I Miss You") line and it goes from there. I call this a very traditional mix because it has a strong dance-beat and the song is interpolated with a rap in the last half and it just feels very common. The rap is a decent one, performed by Rodney P Of London Posse and perhaps it is the bland, non-threatening nature of the rap that appeals to me, but it keeps in the spirit of the rest of the song and does not use any language anyone might find objectionable.

Then there is the dance-beat nursery-rhyme to music "Isobel (Deodato Mix)" which carries a simple note progression and some of the most inane rhymes, making for a ridiculously simple song that feels childish and meaningless. Bjork's vocals on it have her in the soprano range and while she hits the notes fine, the vocal talents evident on the track are undermined by the silliness of the music and lyrics.

Bjork's most direct contribution to Telegram are "You've Been Flirting Again (Flirt Is A Promise Mix)" and the finale, "I Miss You (Original Mix)." "You've Been Flirting Again" has the sound and feel of a hymn mixed with a Bjork track. It has a quiet, slow building and a meditative, almost ponderous feel combined with vocals that are difficult to catch the lyrics out from. There is a sense of being very spiritual and the overall feeling is quite beautiful and it evokes a large space, filled with light filtering in from stained glass windows. All I caught, though of the lines was the oft-repeated "All that she meant was good / . . . All that she said was true" ("You've Been Flirting Again"). And then the song becomes a typical Bjork song wherein the vocals are drown out by the instrumentals, in this case the violins and produced strings of the orchestra. The final version of "I Miss You" offers an interesting contrast to the earlier mix and the computerized beats and overproduced nature make the remix a more enjoyable experience.

"Cover Me (Dillinja Mix)" illustrates that others can get in on the pure weirdness of Bjork and the produced techno-dance beats mix in keyboards and storm noises in a way that is designed to get the listener moving. The lines, like so many of the tracks, are obscured and the attempt to hear them is buggered by such things as a produced telephone noise ringing in the middle of the song. It is an unimaginative dance remix and it is one of the many reasons I am happy that when I finish this listen while I finish off this review that I will not have to ever hear this album again.

Almost as bad as the track that precedes it is "Army Of Me (Masseymix)" and it is at this point that I feel the need to plug a much better work. Moby's album Play: The B-Sides (reviewed here!) utilizes a lot of production elements and yet he manages to make everything in that two-disc set sound musical. The "Army Of Me (Masseymix)" sounds like it was constructed from noises in a war zone and the effect is less disconcerting or eerie and more annoying as the dance beat and sirens compete. I suppose it could be useful in giving one a headache if one ever needed music to do that. My point with the Moby reference is this: there are ways to utilize almost all of the mixing techniques used in "Army Of Me (Masseymix)" to create genuine music that is intriguing and clever and will endure. This mix, however, illustrates none of those qualities.

And finally, there is "Headphones (S Remix)" which is probably better than I think it is, but coming off the throbbing headache of the track that preceded it, it's difficult to listen bell-like synths and strain to hear Bjork's whispering voice. Whatever she is singing, drown out by the keyboards and the bass, is just not worth the effort needed to try to divine it.

That's what Telegram is ultimately; a big listening effort. It's either loud and cumbersome or quiet and pointless. Either way, I can't see the point and the only reason I am rating as high as I am is that repetition wore me down. Yes, the more I listened to it, the less I flat-out hated it (my first three listens, I was ready to write a scathing review with a 2 with the notation that it's probably a 2 1/2 out of 10) and now, after eight turns in my c.d. player Telegram ends and I'll admit there are tracks that are not so abysmal as to deserve to be wiped from the face of the Earth.

Listening to Telegram repeatedly is such a draining experience that I don't want hassle. That takes a lot to reduce me like that. Largley, though, this is an unremarkable album that is mostly unpleasant when it is insinuating or forcing itself upon the listener.

The best track is "I Miss You (Dobie Rub Part One-Sunshine Mix)" and the low point is "Army Of Me (Masseymix)."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Remember - Janis Ian
“Jackie’s Strength” (single) – Tori Amos
Any Day Now - Joan Baez


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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