That’s it? There’s no app that encourages you to interact with the swirling cosmos, or better yet, a 3D holographic projection of the universe turning your room into a virtual reality hollodeck like they did on Star Trek? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in the works for Björk‘s next full length.
For now you will have to accept a standard digital, vinyl or CD offering of the remix companion to Bjork’s 8th studio album Biophilia (which was originally released as a series of interactive apps). Apparently, as Marshal McLuhan famously asserted, the medium is indeed the message. Bastards is much more accessible than its parent. According to Bjork’s own press release on the matter, “the remixes gave the songs more beats; legs to dance on!”. As remix albums go, it’s quite good.
Though Björk has said that she chose certain remixes over others in order to create a unified whole, there still exists a sense of musical disjointedness between the tracks which is to be expected given a project of this breadth. At times, there is an almost perverted relationship between the prevailing theme of nature and the electronic gaze that binds the conversation. The lead track, though, has no trouble navigating through this dysfunctional marriage as it is one of the highlights and worth the price of admission.
‘Crystalline’, in its pure Biophilia form, demonstrated a certain restlessness with its pace which finally, and thankfully, exploded in the final 30 seconds. Here, the remix version – by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman – fuses middle-eastern vibes with Björk’s effervescent vocals. The track establishes a steady, danceable beat immediately as opposed to the original’s slow build up crystal sparkle. Björk, reborn into rich middle-eastern royalty, sounds amazing and in complete contrast to her more traditional position on an Icelandic avant-garde throne, the track’s refreshing departure bringing to mind her brilliant but lesser known vocal jazz album Gling-Gló.
‘Virus’, reworked by Scotland’s Hudson Mohawke, maintains its softness and adds a powerful electronic horn motif turning the wind chime-inspired original into a score worthy of an epic film. This is a powerful piece in its re-design and really worth a listen for fans and novices alike. That is the good news. Unfortunately, nothing else on Bastards really compares to these first two remixes.
The songs by Death Grips, a twitchy experimental hip-hop group from Sacramento, California, are interesting but miss the whole idea of electronica as an organic medium. They have re-fit ‘Sacrifice’ with an unsettling, attention deficit beat (as if Björk needs help in that department) and offer eerie, cut-up vocal breaths (akin to hyperventilation) as a backdrop. It works on their own stuff quite well, but is a little unnerving when you combine a glitchy and chaotic soundscape with Björk’s expressed softness. Their signature sound of chopped up bits and pieces is also applied to ‘Thunderbolt’ adding a sharper, edgier dimension to the original. Omar Souleyman’s remodel of the same song features some that same dervish fever found on the opening track. Omar likes to sing alongside Björk on his remixes. It is both odd and amazing to hear a mix of Arabic and Icelandic vocals singing as if on the same stage.
Adding The New Puritans to the mix makes the most sense from a genre point of view. Like Björk, they excel at pushing the envelope of pop music. The result, however, is completely different than what you’d expect. ‘Mutual Core’, better known as the plate technics song, features a powerful chorus of voices with a native aesthetic and an instrument rarely (if ever) used in many Björk motifs to date; a piano. Matthew Herbert’s mix of the same track is probably closest to something Björk would produce herself, save for a few awkward electronic washes. The New Puritans win with the best mix for the song ‘Mutual Core’.
Perhaps the greatest metamorphosis lies with ‘Solstice’. Current Value transform the ambient-oriented original into an angry dubstep-like journey, something you might expect to hear en route to meet the maker of the underworld. Massive bass flutter and dark drum and bass adorn this potential club anthem. The Slips make ‘The Moon’ sound light and playful with a steady beats intermixed with happy synth noises while Alva Noto turns the ambient ‘Dark Matter’ into something even more formless. Matthew Herbert gets his producer hat on one more time with the final track on the album . He finishes with a pleasant but jerky version of ‘Crystalline’, though it has nowhere near the power of the Omar Souleyman mix.
Bastards could be a worthy remix album for fans of Björk, but probably best suited for the those who think she is too unconventional. With the exception of Alva Noto’s disjointed version of ‘Dark Matter ‘, the tracks might appeal to an audience beyond the typical Björk enthusiast. Conversely, the purists might easily dismiss Bastards because it is not a true reflection of an artist who takes great care in selecting every nanosecond of sound on her albums. Either way, this album moves Biophilia laterally into a different place: more beats, less beauty.
Listen to Bastards