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V/A - READ: Interpreting Björk

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Artist: V/A

Album: READ: Interpreting Björk

Label: Hush

Review date: Feb. 11, 2004

Buried somewhere beneath that Swan dress, Matmos production and elaborate CG video recreations of herself, is Björk; a simple and melodic songwriter. And while sometimes overshadowed by her public and studio accessories, the Icelandic songwriter manages to affect many on an intimate level and alienate others with her unabashed flamboyance.

Released by the Pacific Northwest label Hush, READ: Interpreting Björk is a cover album that is neither ambitious nor adequate. The tracks on the album fall into two schools: simple covers of Björk songs and legitimate interpretations of her work. Unfortunately, the majority on READ simply covers, using fewer studio effects, but never altering the actual composition in the least. It seems a bit generous to use “interpretation” when an artist is simply learning the song's riff and then playing it on acoustic guitar. Instead of "Interpreting" Björk, it seems the majority of artists on the album are more concerned with simply turning Björk into indie rock, in the name of creating a more "intimate" and less produced version. As a result, the album comes of more as novelty than individualistic conceptualizations.

The album's highlight is the Portland trio Noise For Pretend, who manage to capture "It's Oh So Quiet" by playing off the original's elated big band chorus. Despite having a fraction of the musicians featured on the original, Noise For Pretend creates a breezy and fun take on the song. Between the spastic interplay of guitar, bass and drums, the band conjures a bombastic celebration, reminiscent of the missing big band.

Sadly, things soon take a turn for the worst, presenting the listeners with tired retreads. Blanket Music, whose early album "Move" was likable, lazy Bossa Nova, contribute a version of "Hyper-Ballad" that is, predictably, lazy Bossa Nova. Taking a simple Jobin riff and then reciting the lyrics over it, the band performs the track with such little energy, most will yearn for the original. "Hyper-Ballad,” one of Björk's greatest singles, sounds neither pure nor refreshing when someone with less vocal talent and ambition tackles it.

The same can be said for Ben Gibbard, who provides a stumbling version "Joga" from Homogenic that sounds like he's simply playing the song around a campfire. When the chorus comes in, structurally requiring higher notes than Gibbard is capable of, he simply sticks in a backup singer, to add the missing effrontery. Elsewhere, The Decemberists, whose near comical take on "Human Behavior" is only slightly salvaged by the rhythmic entrance of bass player Nate Query and drummer Ezra Holbrook. It's quite disappointing that many respected artists on READ provide songs that sound so identical. While on their own, Blanket Music, the Decemberists and Ben Gibbard's various projects are all different, their takes on Björk are sadly uninspired and homogenous.

Much of the album's better tracks come later, hidden behind the initial cloak of mediocrity. From Brooklyn, Peter Miser's seductive "Immature" uses simple electronics to recreate the original with a more dance-orientated ambition. By meshing the song's riffs and completely removing the vocals, Miser creates an original patchwork of Björk's work. While not immediately recognizable, "Immature" is undeniably her music and Miser manages to convey a playfulness of his own without losing any of the song's ambience.

It seems that the artists have been chosen because their vocal deliveries sound like polar opposites to Björk's operatic attempts. While they have merits on their own, their attempts to pull off Björk come off as lazy and terribly predictable.

By Addison MacDonald

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