First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2001, Volume 8, #1
Written by Michael Karpinski
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you solve a problem like Björk?
Okay, so that's not the way that Oscar Hammerstein had it in The Sound of Music. In Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's latest sacrificial-lamb extravaganza Dancer in the Dark, however, the elfin, Icelandic ingénue Björk makes her acting debut as Selma — a wide-eyed innocent, who has a thing for children and a "habit" of seeking solace in song. Sound familiar?
Of course, long before she felt a need to explore her thespian tendencies, former Sugarcubes front gal Björk already had forged a formidable reputation as one of the alternative music scene's most mercurial messengers.Depending upon the listener's perspective upon her eclectic nature, she could viewed either as open-armed and inviting or off-putting as fingernails-on-a-chalkboard. Her music could be considered hysterical or haunting; it could be lushly seductive or shrilly unhinged. Selmasongs — Dancer in the Dark's dense but slender soundtrack — certainly is not in any way an exception to this trend.
At seven songs that span a mere 32-minutes, Selmasongs
is essentially a glorified EP.Nevertheless, it picks up precisely where Björk's
1995 video-single It's Oh So Quiet left off. Following an instrumental overture that
is filled with subdued gloom and forlorn horns, the opening selection Cvalda
clatters onto the scene like a bad actor
who is telegraphing a pratfall. To get this gist of this kitchen-sink symphony,
imagine if Busby Berkeley had choreographed Nine Inch Nails. The song is a giddy goulash
that contains stamping-plant percussion
and harp-hypnotic samples. Scatterheart isn't nearly as ambitious.
sinister-cricket fills and forbidding strings, however, it also seems afflicted with some sort of debilitating, bipolar mood disorder. In the Musicals mines the same
mood — oscillating between a
squeaky-sneakers synthesizer loop and a "Sun'll-come-out-tomorrow"
sort of chorus. Stripped of its back-story, and thus its on-screen context, 107 Steps is
helpless to transcend its ridiculously literal, Sesame Street-styled lyric. New World,
soars with the grace of an endangered avis.Its breathtaking ascent
appears to mock its imminent
extinction.Finally, it is the sweet-and-sinister I've Seen It All,
a duet with
Radiohead's Thom Yorke, that represents Björk at her
absolute, melodramatic best. In keeping with the
Hollywood musical motif (by re-jiggering Gigi's seminal I Remember It Well),
Björk plays the role of a sedated Leslie Caron to Yorke's morose Maurice Chevalier:
Björk: What about China?/Have you seen the Great Wall?
Yorke: All walls are great/If the roof doesn't fall
Yorke: You've never been to Niagara Falls
Björk: I have seen water/It's water, that's all.
Here, as with New World, Björk not only succeeds in keeping her schizophrenic instincts in check, but she also beautifully communicates Selma's nearly superhuman sense of acceptance in the face of unfolding misfortune.She finds the kind of Zen resignation that never dares to bend to regret.
So, the question is this: How does a person solve a perplexing problem like Björk? The answer is simple: You don't even try. You either "get" her, or you don't. And so it goes with Selmasongs. ½
Selmasongs is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box