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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Björk: Telegram


1) Possibly Maybe (Lucy mix); 2) Hyperballad (Brodsky Quartet version); 3) Enjoy (Further Over The Edge mix); 4) My Spine; 5) I Miss You (Dobie Rub Part One, Sunshine mix); 6) Isobel (Deodato mix); 7) You've Been Flirting Again (Flirt Is A Promise mix); 8) Cover Me (Dillinja mix); 9) Army Of Me (Masseymix); 10) Headphones (Ø Remix).

Remixing is a special type of artistic expression — unless we're simply talking body-oriented stuff («special dance mix» that goes on for 12 minutes until you're ready to smash your head against a brick wall, etc.), formal symbolism usually matters more than any emotional reaction: you just take a song and have your own imaginative way with it, playing the part of a crooked mirror. It must be tremendous fun for the remixer, but it should rarely be much more than a curio for the listener. Nevertheless, Björk has always had a special thing for remixes: in fact, back in 1994 she'd already given the green light to an EP of remixes from Debut, with Black Dog, Sabres Of Paradise, and other artists contributing, and now, in 1996, along comes Telegram — a full-length follow-up to Post containing remixes of all but two songs from that album.

To be accurate, Björk herself has stated that it is not so much a «remix» album as an experiment in «deconstruction», pulling the songs apart, extracting the «core» and exaggerating it to an al­most absurdist effect. A fair enough description, but it does not work for everything. It certainly covers something like the Graham Massey «remix» of ʽArmy Of Meʼ, which essentially drops out everything except for the grumbly bassline, then samples a tiny bit of the vocals, grinds them down in a Vocoder-like environment, and mixes the results in an electronic jungle generator. But it does not work, for instance, in the case of ʽHyperballadʼ, where the original electronic instru­mentation is replaced by an entirely new modern classical arrangement, provided by The Brodsky Quartet — not a «deconstruction», not a «remix», but rather just an entirely new vision for the song, with lots of classical dissonance that might actually be a better sonic fit for Björk's heroical-hysterical delivery of the tune.

These two extremes demonstrate the major virtue of Telegram — diversity and unpredictability. Naturally, the «remixes» lean towards dance-oriented or trance-oriented electronic rhythms, but the remixers have been carefully selected to reflect a variety of musical styles and atmospheric approaches, and the «Björk seal of approval» is certainly not given out at random: everything has to combine in a way that would deepen and sharpen the «Björk enigma», make those Post songs that were never all that trivial in the first place pose far more questions than there could be an­swers. Of course, when you ask more questions than you give answers, you run the risk of ma­king it all seem like one grand put-on. Why do LFO think that the vocals in ʽPossibly Maybeʼ have to sound like the female equivalent of Stephen Hawking? Why is ʽEnjoyʼ being put in hard­core industrial mode, with factory machine noises as the only counterpart to the vocals? Why does ʽCover Meʼ get a fussy drum and bass arrangement, not to mention being three times as long as the original? Why do we have to listen to all this as an official Björk LP release?..

All these questions can have from one to infinity answers, so I am not even going to bother. In­stead, let me just mention that the only totally new track here is ʽMy Spineʼ, originally the B-side to ʽIt's Oh So Quietʼ, featuring fabled Scottish virtuoso deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie on a magnificent vibraphone part (where each bar, apparently, is symbolic of one of the vertebrae in Björk's vertebral column). It's a beautiful duet whose exclusion from Post was regrettable, but at least it has not disappeared into thin air completely.

Ultimately, is Telegram a Björk album at all? Seeing as how she is not responsible for all the ar­rangement ideas on the original Post anyway, and that all of the songs are hers, composition-wise, and the vocals are hers, and the track selection is hers, it probably should be. «Those songs can work this way, too», she tells us, and we have the right to respect or to trash that artistic decision, whichever way we feel. Personally, I've always felt intrigued and even a little thrilled by these remixes, even though I've never been able to say that I «get» them, or the concept of the album in general. That said, Telegram is supposed to work faster than Post, so this means we probably shouldn't tarry too much on the issue. It's just a speedy curio, here today, gone tomorrow. But it does work, sort of, as an album, so do not make the mistake of ignoring it if you're really into Björk at all; have my slightly puzzled thumbs up as an extra endorsement, if need be.

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