Record Label – One Little Indian
Release Date – May 25 2009
Voltaic refers to five separate releases of related material from singer-songwriter Bjork’s sixth studio album VOLTA.
The melancholic master tones of this ravishing Reykjavikian have once again tempted me back into that weird and wonderful pop cavern – a place from which I am currently reluctant to move.
One can’t passively absorb Bjork and expect to take it in. It’s like purchasing a new pair of shoes. You need to get used to walking around in them, get a feel for the material and only then can you get comfortable.
Bjork is and always has been a fascinating pop cult. Unlike other popular musicians of her standing she possesses genius without clear boundaries, a consistency similar to organised chaos, most of which remains starkly present in the latest releases. Bjork’s delivery demonstrates a beholding of something beautifully burdensome. The art, the noise and the notes get thrown out, acting as a form of self extrication and a frustration harnessed together by volatile electric currents. There is no denying her originality of style and having listened to this current material I have made somewhat of a re-discovery, stepping back into the world of alternative electronica once more.
Disc 1 – Songs from the Volta tour performed live at Olympic Studios
Bjork’s propensity for re-invention invites the listener to explore every creative spark including the gaps between the sparks. Wanderlust is no exception and is testament to her evolution as a songwriter.
I am leaving this harbour
Giving urban a farewell
Its habitants seem too keen in God
I cannot stomach their rights and wrongs
The lyrics, the delivery and the song structure are chameleon and never stay still.
Wanderlust! Relentlessly craving
Wanderlust! Peel off the layers
Until we get to the core
These lyrics coming from any other singer, under any other circumstances (I know of), would be clichéd almost horribly so. But as I hear these contrasts of calm and frustration I imagine the lyrics and the whole concept to be defiantly marching through music history.
According to sources, ‘Hunter’ was inspired by the burden of having to be inspired. In her own words:
“I guess the song’s about when you have a lot of people that work for you and you sort-of have to write songs or people get unemployed, you know? In most cases, it’s inspiring but in that particular song I was pissed off with it. I was ready for a break but it didn’t seem fair on the people I worked with at the time.”
I’m going hunting
I’m the hunter
I’ll bring back the goods
But I don’t know when
Distaste for sharing the weight of other’s issues is not something the Icelandic singer carries over to all aspects of her life. Why only this year she was using her position to aid her homeland’s economy by creating the ‘Bjork Fund’. The fund will invest in socially and environmentally sustainable companies and result in greater self sufficiency (and fingers crossed) a sounder economy.
The Pleasure Is All Mine
This track contains pan pipe effects created on a synthesizer which governs the beginning of the track until Bjork’s euphoric blend of moaning and high pitched singing tie in with slow electronic sensor pad rhythms and horns to top it all off making it altogether perfectly placed.
This track is quintessentially Bjork like queuing is quintessentially British. She executes the vocals with a distinct counter rhythmic irregularity, with sometimes too many syllables packed in and words being hung onto and dragged out to full capacity.
Army Of Me
It’s been many a year since I listened to Nine Inch Nails but this track is identical to the sort of material Trent Reznor would pump out as well as sounding like the long lost illegitimate brain child of Aphex Twin and the Dust Brothers.
I Miss You
Bjork turns the conventional sense of longing on its head (as she does most preconceptions or ideas) with the use of lyrics such as:
I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet
So special, but it hasn’t happened yet
You are gorgeous, but I haven’t met you yet
I remember, but it hasn’t happened yet
The idea of missing someone is applied in an almost prophetic sense as if to say she is expecting someone but is not sure of time, place or indeed the individual. The track itself suffers musically from a lack of substantial melodic or rhythmic backing. The lyrics stand alone in front of weak programming – but then I’ve always wanted more guitar and growl behind a singer of her style.
Earth Intruders is arguably one of the most straight-out-entertaining tracks on the album. Tribal electronic beats along with outstanding vocals help to bolster symphonic bursts throughout the track. I truly recommend this one, her voice is superb.
All Is Full Of Love
We are reminded that to live is to be receptive to minute detail as well as grand scale. This track is an undeniable classic and demonstrates the power and scope of Bjork’s work.
Whether it’s the oriental harp string melody or what sounds to me like an orchestral double bass attached to a kick drum pedal, this track dusts off the covers of convention. It is well mixed, well thought out, with execution that is second to none and Bjork continues to explore her inner and outer self and manages to reinforce the mystery and quality of the record.
Vertebrae By Vertebrae
There is a definite strangeness at this point (if that is comparably possible). This track pushes the listener into experiencing a further Avant-garde side to an already alternative artist. In other words, this is going to take some getting used to and some growing into to enjoy. Whatever you do, don’t start the album with this track.
This track was released as a single on January 1st 2008 and Bjork dedicated a live performance of the song in Shanghai, China, to the Tibetan freedom movement which caused international controversy. This only goes to prove that Bjork doesn’t stop at assaulting photo journalists at airports. According to another source the song was originally an instrumental by British musician Mark Bell who is a producer of electronic house music and has collaborated with Depeche Mode.
The track itself is of an extreme calibre positioned as a harsh contrast to well, anything essentially before or after. I would personally describe it as sounding like a one on one battle between an ATARI and a Commodore 64. With vocals.
Disc 2 – The Volta Mixes
Earth Intruders (XXXChang Remix)
The Volta Mixes more than stand on their own merit and are for the most part superb. They could be seen as the transition point from stage performance to dance floor and this could not be a more natural direction for them to take. The XXXChange Remix of Earth Intruders is by no means an exception to the rule. I definitely hope to be dancing to this in a club at some point in the near future.
Innocence (Simian Mobile Disco Remix)
This floor-filler comes courtesy of Simian Mobile Disco, an English production and remix team consisting of James Ford and James Anthony Shaw who have also worked with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Peaches and the Klaxons. On the whole it is a dynamic and fruitful use of the talents of two highly demanded producers and of course Bjork’s much transferable style.
Declare Independence (Matthew Herbert Remix)
Matthew Herbert, also known as Herbert, Doctor Rockit, (oh please!) Radio Boy and Mr Vertigo is a British musician who produces avant-garde electronic work. He has produced remixes for artists such as Moloko and REM. I cannot pass judgement on his other work, but do not warm to his take on this particular track.
Wanderlust (Ratatat Remix)
Guitarist Mike Stroud and synth driver/producer Evan Mast are the minds behind the Ratatat project. The two New Yorkers have toured with bands such as Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and The Super Furry Animals which to my mind would probably reveal an impressive catalogue of material. I like it, you’ll like it. It’s better than Matthew Herbert.
The Dull Flame of Desire (Modeselektor Remix For Girls)
Modeselektor is an electronic band formed in Berlin consisting of members Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary. This is a consistently pleasing record. However, I wish the male voice had been removed as it does nothing for the track.
Earth Intruders (Lexx Remix)
I cannot work out who Lexx are, or whether the name pertains to anything music related. I do know however of my opinion on this one and my opinion is that it is not very good.
Innocence (Graeme Sinden Remix)
This track would easily find a home in clubs up and down the country, but is not particularly remarkable. Bjork’s vocals come across as an appendage rather than an added bonus on this occasion.
Declare Independence (Ghostigital Remix)
Einar Orn Benediktsson is the man behind the remix on this record. Benediktsson is a singer and trumpet player and has worked with alternative rock band The Sugar Cubes who Bjork was also a member of. The harsh erratic rhythms and atonal sampling seem throughout to be in complete contradiction to Bjork’s power ballad style.
The Dull Flame Of Desire (Modeselektor Remix For Boys)
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary are back in the production seat for a track that wouldn’t be out of place in a German ex-army bunker turned nightclub. This is relatively entertaining, but not good enough to cover up for the return of that monotonous and totally irritating male voice.
The remaining remixes on the record don’t prove to be even close to the calibre of those produced by the likes of the Simian Mobile Disco or Ratatat who are by far the most melodically advanced contributors.
Words by Phillip Cogger