Monday, October 13, 2014

No, Cats, I'm Not Punishing You With Bjork's Selmasongs, Another Dismal Bjork Album

The Good: Orchestral work, Generally more comprehensible than some of Bjork's other albums!
The Bad: Short, Dull, Lyrics, Boring, Musically unimaginative, Very common
The Basics: Yes, it's a soundtrack but out of context, Selmasongs is just boring music made worse by Bjork's singing unclearly in (we presume) English.

I have come to believe that my poor cats, Brillo and Gollum, are beginning to feel like they are being punished and they don't know why. It seems like whenever I pop in a new (to me) Bjork album, after a few moments, they begin mewing and crying. Truly, it is heartbreaking. The older one, Brillo, just now came out of the bedroom when Selmasongs, the current Bjork album I'm spinning, finished. By the time track two began, he was hiding back out in the bedroom. I don't think he understands me when I assure him that there's only one more Bjork album after this one that I have to listen to.

Gollum is crying now and I can't tell if he's trying to harmonize with Bjork's vocals. Either way, it seems like both of them will be much happier when I've finished reviewing Selmasongs and the final Bjork album I have kicking around to review.

With only seven tracks, clocking out at 32:16, Selmasongs is both the least audacious and most mundane Bjork album I've yet heard and, as it turns out, it is all music - according to the c.d. cover from the film Dancer In The Dark. I'll be up front and admit that I have not seen Dancer In The Dark and so this is a very pure review of the c.d. as an album, not as anything other than the music as it is heard on this presentation.

Selmasongs had me going the first time I heard it. I thought "This might be a Bjork album I can recommend!" The reason was simple; the first track, "Overture" is an orchestral track without any vocals. The music is deep, sounding somewhat derivative of something with the magnitude of tracks from the Batman Returns Soundtrack (reviewed here!) and it is a thoroughly pleasant musical work featuring a rather traditional orchestral sound. And I like it.

Those good feelings are almost immediately dashed by the industrial worksite sounds that open "Cvalda," a duet between Bjork and Catherine Denueve. The vocals - which Gollum is howling to (he's not a noisy cat, usually!) - open with the chaos of Bjork singing words like "clatter" and "crash" which are already noises being made by the instrumentals or background sounds. The lines, then, are somewhat unnecessary. After all, we already get that there's chaos and clutter and noise. We don't need a vocal essentially saying "noise" to make the noise any more evident. The track has a big Broadway feel to is and when it isn't sounding theatrical, it is just noisy.

The lyrics of "I've Seen It All," which follows as the album's third track are presented with Bjork's very straightforward quiet, waifish presentation, opposite Thom Yorke's vocals. Yorke sounds much like Moby and the overall song is a pretty straightforward duet with Yorke and Bjork playing off one another's lines. Sadly, the most comprehensible song also has some of the lamest rhymes on the album. When asked about China, the exchange proceeds, "Have you seen the Great Wall? / All walls are great, if the roof doesn't fall" ("I've Seen It All"). The strange thing is, Bjork has a weird oscillation between wonderful poetics and lines that sound like they are either written by a fifth grader or just take such a delight in the simplicity of learning English words as to make them dismally underdeveloped.

On that subject, Bjork takes confusing credit on the album, as the liner notes say "All tracks written by Bjork," but then "Tracks 2 & 5 written by Bjork, Bell, Sjon, Von Trier" and tracks 3,4,6, and 7 are credited to the quartet, less Bell. It's hard to evaluate the album as a function of Bjork, then because how much she was involved outside the vocals is not clear. She is credited with the vocal editing, so she is pretty much to blame for any overproduction. Unlike other Bjork albums, she is not credited with providing keyboards on Selmasongs.

On "Scatterheart," the vocals are overproduced and they are often drown out by the electronically produced percussion. In other words, this is a very typical Bjork sound. It's about sound with minimal emphasis on the actual lyrics being sung. The result is something more bland than I tend to enjoy and the repetition of "You're gonna have to find out for yourself" ("Scatterheart") repeated over and over and over again is just mundane.

At least "In The Musicals" has something of an actual musical sense to it. The track has squeaky background noises, but at least it has a musical quality to it. It is possible to pick out a general tune or recognize some instruments in it. The result is pleasant enough, if a little bland. It sounds like a soundtrack song, actually.

At least "In The Musicals" with its attempt at making music and telling a story (even if the vocals are mostly garbled) is better than "107 Steps," the penultimate song of the album. Unlike a song like the quirky "32 Footsteps" by They Might Be Giants, presented on Then (reviewed here!), "107 Steps" is pointless and droll. There is no real story being told. Yes, Bjork sings from one to one hundred seven, counting footsteps as the violins and woodwinds reach a crescendo. And for those bored by the weirdness of it, which reminds me of Kate Bush's song "Pi" off the terrible Aerial (reviewed here!) all hope is dashed when Bjork begins skipping numbers in the early seventies. No, the song does not end any quicker as a result. Instead, there is an instrumental bit that closes the track about where the song would have ended had Bjork actually counted all of the numbers between seventy and one hundred seven.

"New World" closes the album and the listener is left with the sense that the performer has been transformed, though we are unsure exactly how. After all, musically, the track is very close to the orchestral "Overture" that opened the album. So, how did the musical protagonist grow and change? Who knows? Who cares? She now sings alongside the orchestra. But wait! She's been doing that most of the rest of the album.

Okay, as one might guess, I find myself thoroughly underwhelmed with Selmasongs. The album is short and it feels like the sound recording of a high school musical that was produced with a rather sophisticated orchestra. But it is basically orchestral music fronted by Bjork and when it is not Bjork's trademark indecipherable vocals presenting whatever the musical story is, it's just boring.

Yes, almost as bad as Bjork being the new thing we've never heard before is Bjork being the performer we've heard all the time. This is a musically and vocally boring album with all slow songs that are dull. And now that it has finished playing for the ninth time, my cats and I will gladly rid ourselves of it!

The best track is "Overture," the low point is "107 Steps," though there's not much else worth listening to outside perhaps "New World."

For other works by Bjork, please check out my reviews of:


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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