Album Review by Mark Bayross
The Icelandic songstress has become more ambitious and interesting with every project. Having found a formula for synthesising the terrain of her bleak Northern homeland with a club-friendly vibe that’s as much Rekijavik as geysers and glaciers, Bjork’s music has taken on a magically other-worldly dimension.
SELMA SONGS is fascinating in a number of respects. It is the soundtrack to the latest Lars von Trier film, the Palme D’Or-winning DANCER IN THE DARK, in which Bjork plays Selma, a woman who constructs a fantasy life based on song. That may sound a bit Judy Garland, but von Trier has pulled off the inspired feat of writing words for Bjork to sing in character. As she puts it herself, this has allowed her the liberating experience of going “completely (in)to someone else’s joys and pains”.
The opening OVERTUNE sets the scene, its brass-based orchestration spiralling upwards like the dawning of the Arctic sun over an ice-covered plateau, but then the album plunges us deep into “Singing In the Rain” territory with CVALDA, a high-kicking number that starts as a mechanical clank-fest, then comes on like “It’s Oh So Quiet” on steroids.
What sets Bjork apart from crowd is that eclectic buzz her music creates, and it’s something that’s writ large on SELMA SONGS. As with her last album, 1997’s HOMOGENIC, the electronics are provided by LFO’s Mark Bell, while Guy Sigsworth has once again drafted in a string octet to add colour and sometimes startling extremes of temperature. Both elements of the sound pose a challenge of their own, particularly Bell’s use of found sounds to craft the beats – incredibly, all recorded on location while filming.
The effect is to create an emotional rollercoaster backed by industrial beats, ranging from a lingering sense of foreboding to almost slapstick comedy. This is particularly evident on “In The Musicals”, whose title alone should give you an indication of the bizarre parallel world that has been created here. A rhythmic tour de force that gestates from what sounds like a basketball match (surely not?), it is the theme tune to gleeful mental collapse. Well, this is Bjork…
Besides the musique concrète (trains, record static) and orchestral flourishes, SELMA SONGS also features guest vocals from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (filling in for actor Peter Stormare on the heart-wrenching duet ”I’ve Seen It All”), and her co-star in the film, legendary cinematic ice-maiden Catherine Deneuve, who appears on both “Cvalda” and “In The Musicals”.
The album finishes in as stunning a fashion as it began, with the epic NEW WORLD as deeply affecting as Massive Attack at their most inventive. This is an incredible record – a maelstrom of swirling strings and clanking beats that creeps under your skin and into your soul.