Friday, May 19, 2017

New Cats, Same Disdain: Selmasongs [Review This Again]

The Good: Vocals illustrate some skill
The Bad: SHORT!, Cacophonic musical accompaniment, Unmemorable/creepy lyrics, Musically messy, Indecipherable lyrics/vocal performances
The Basics: Bjork's soundtrack album Selmasongs has not aged well.

[There is a big meme in the art community going around now called "Draw This Again." In the meme, artists illustrate how they have grown in their chosen medium by putting side-by-side pictures of art they created in the past and now. My wife had the great idea that I should do something similar with my reviewing. So, for 2017, I will be posting occasional "Review This Again" reviews, where I revisit subjects I had previously reviewed and review them again, through a lens of increased age, more experience, and - for some - greater familiarity with the subject. This review is one such review, where I am re-experiencing Selmasongs: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack 'Dancer In The Dark' after many years and with more experience as both a reviewer and one who has heard much of the Bjork library. The album was originally reviewed here!]

A good title often works as a decent hook for reviews. It's true and sometimes, the truth is, I try to sensationalize to get people into the meat of my reviews by a hook-laden title. So, I figured when I was looking for a Review This Again subject for Bjork that I would use Selmasongs and do some objective testing with my new cats. After all, when I originally reviewed Selmasongs, I had entirely different cats in my home (life, time and tragedy being what they are). I asserted in my original review of Selmasongs that the album was not cat-friendly and, indeed, all I recall about the album was that it drove both my cats from the room for the duration of my listenings to it. So, before I put on Selmasongs, I brought my three cats into the room, played with them, wore them out and let them settle down.

The verdict from my cats on Selmasongs was incredibly clear. The moment "Cvalda" began, Evie fled the room. For sure, she is a scaredy cat; at one and a half years old, she gets spooked. She has not re-emerged. Elim, my very clingy cat, the one who chose me and who took the longest to settle down, left the room before the end of "Cvalda" and has come back into the room a few times since I put on Selmasongs, meowed noisily, then left the room again. Timber, my laziest cat, has remained perched on his cat tower near the couch where I am writing this review, but periodically, he had lifted his head and glared at me, especially each time "Scatterheart" has come on. My wife, who is not a cat but has been suffering a bout of insomnia lately, managed to fall asleep about two hours ago, but came out during my third replay of Selmasongs to sleepily glare at me and as "What the hell are you listening to?!"

So, two out of three cats will leave the room when Selmasongs is on, one will be agitated but too lazy to flee and this Bjork album is enough to get a sleep-deprived wife out of bed to question its musical validity. Selmasongs is not a crowd pleaser.

What Selmasongs is is a dreadfully short soundtrack to the film Dancer In The Dark. In the interest of full disclosure, I've not seen Dancer In The Dark and have no context for the music on Selmasongs. This is a pure review of the album as it stacks up musically on its own.

Selmasongs is a seven-song album clocking out at 32:12 and is very much the work of Icelandic artist Bjork. Bjork wrote or co-wrote all seven songs and produced or co-produced them all as well. Bjork provides all of the lead vocals, though "I've Seen It All" is a duet with Thom Yorke. Given that the album has (I've recently learned) been reworked from the music that appears in the film, it seems like Selmasongs is the album Bjork intended to make.

Vocally, Selmasongs features Bjork singing and what that means this time around is that the listener hears an angsty voice performing in the alto and soprano registers. Bjork goes a little lower on "In The Musicals" and when she does, her voice becomes hypnotic and nauseating as she repeats the line "You were always there to catch me." Between that line and the numbers she sings in "107 Steps" there are very few memorable or clearly performed lyrics on Selmasongs.

Musically, Selmasongs is largely a mess. Between "Overture" and the end of "New World," which ultilizes some of the same musical themes as "Overture" there are a series of messy, noisy songs that are amelodic nightmares. "107 Steps" meanders outside the strings, "Cvalda" ought to be called "cacophony," and the opening to "In The Musicals" is unsettling. The instrumental accompaniment on Selmasongs is often percussion-driven and it creates a mood that is lonely, unsettling and unfortunately noisy.

Usually, I take some time to discuss lyrics on an album, but with Selmasongs, I'm going to pass. Listeners aren't likely to be able to understand most of the lines Bjork sings and Thom Yorke is saddled with unfortunately unimpressive lines to sing on "I've Seen It All," so I just don't see the point in going into the poetry of Bjork for Selmasongs. Selmasongs is largely unlistenable.

The best track is "Overture," the worst song is "Cvalda."

For other Bjork works, please visit my reviews of:


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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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