Bjork is probably Iceland’s best-known export since . well, probably since ice. From her early days with the under-appreciated Icelandic band The Sugarcubes to her groundbreaking and innovative solo work in the 90s, Bjork has emerged as one of the oddest and interesting artists of the past 20 years.
After a three-year pause since the release of her last album, Homogenic, Bjork has come back in a big way. She’s in the upcoming film Dancer In The Dark and, not forgetting her musical roots, has released the new Selma Songs (Elektra) which has music from the upcoming album.
One immediate plus of Selma Songs is that it’s not a typical soundtrack with dull instrumentals and filler, but a true Bjork album. Actually, it’s really an EP with only seven songs. Still, for the legions of Bjork fans out there, it will appease their hunger for new music.
The album does open with an instrumental, Overture. It sounds like your typical film score piece and is probably the only misstep on the album. The low, dark sound does a good job bringing you in, and the grandiose orchestral sound it builds up to has always been a part of Bjork’s music, especially on Homogenic. Still, it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the music and sounds tacked on to make the album seem more like a soundtrack.
Things get odd with the next song Cvalda. Here it’s Bjork doing industrial. Foghorns and the sounds of machinery open the song and then slowly morph into the rhythm for the track. After about a minute, Bjork leaps into the song, singing machine-sound words in her distinctive pixie/6-year-old-on-too-much-sugar voice. It swings back and forth between putting a smile on your face and getting grating on the nerves. Bjork, though, has always had a talent for being distinctive. And it shows here.
Other songs sound very much like B-sides from Homogenic, with their heavy electronic beats and soaring sound. Scatterheart and 107 Steps are pleasant songs and typical Bjork fare. They’re not really that special, though, and start to blend into background noise. The same can’t be said for In The Musicals. The song has a carnival-meets-Bjork on Broadway sound. It has a jittery energy to it, again like a hyper child, but it does put a smile on your face and is genuinely odd.
Selma Songs also has two of Bjork’s best songs on it. One, the current single I’ve Seen It All, is her best since Human Behavior and could be one of the best singles of the year. For all of her childlike imagery and sound, Bjork has also been able to pull off emotion and romanticism in her best work.
This shows on I’ve Seen It All. Her voice matches that of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke perfectly. The joy in her voice sounds like it’s drawing Yorke’s melancholy falsetto out of a dark room. The mournful sound of a rolling train blowing its whistle sets the dark tone of the song perfectly and when the large-sounding strings kick in, it hits you in that place the best songs do.
The other standout track on Selma Songs is New World. The horns from Overture come back on top of a booming electronic beat. Bjork gently sings over top of the mix. The song, as a whole, has the grandiose and encompassing sound of the finale of a Broadway musical, without going over the edge of cheesiness and sentimentality. It’s the perfect ending for the album.
In the end though, Bjork has always been a take-or-leave artist. Her odd style and sound either turns you off or inspires love. If you weren’t a fan before, not much on Selma Sounds will change your mind, except possibly I’ve Seen It All. For her legions of fans though, this album will do a good job of appeasing them until her next real album comes out. Hopefully, her movie career won’t overshadow the great music.