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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Björk: Voltaïc


CD I: 1) Wanderlust; 2) Hunter; 3) Pleasure Is All Mine; 4) Innocence; 5) Army Of Me; 6) I Miss You; 7) Earth Intruders; 8) All Is Full Of Love; 9) Pagan Poetry; 10) Vertebrae By Vertebrae; 11) Declare Independence.
CD II: 1) Earth Intruders (XXXChange Remix); 2) Innocence (Simian Mobile Disco Remix); 3) Declare Indepen­dence (Matthew Herbert Remix); 4) Wanderlust (Ratatat Remix); 5) The Dull Flame Of Desire (Modeselektor Remix for Girls); 6) Earth Intruders (Lexx Remix); 7) Innocence (Graeme Sinden Remix); 8) Declare Independence (Ghostigital Remix); 9) The Dull Flame Of Desire (Modeselektor Remix for Boys); 10) Innocence (Alva Noto Unitxt Remodel); 11) Declare Independence (Black Pus Remix); 12) Innocence (Simian Mobile Disco Dub Remix).

I would not bother with this one, honestly. Volta was not Björk at her very best, and neither is this accompanying piece, or, rather, multi-set of accompanying pieces. In its shortest incarnation, Voltaïc is just one CD, capturing a live performance recorded without a live audience at the Olympic Studios. In its longest incarnation, the set also includes a live DVD (recorded with live audiences in Paris and Reykjavik), a DVD of musical videos, and a separate CD of multiple re­mixes of Volta songs, similarly to the Telegram album but perhaps a little less conceptual and autonomous in execution. Plus artwork, of course, and all sorts of various goodies for people to argue about (crass commercialism or heartfelt gift for the fans?).

This brief and somewhat displeased review will discuss only the CDs. The first one, of all the wealth of live material released by the singer, is probably the least useful. It sounds like an expe­riment — would it be possible to completely trick the listener into thinking that he is dealing with a polished studio re-recording rather than a «spontaneous» live performance? Yes, it would. Now what? The Volta songs all sound almost exactly the same as their studio counterparts, and the others, even if they do modify the arrangements (for instance, using horns instead of strings on ʽHunterʼ and ʽAll Is Full Of Loveʼ), still allow for no real spontaneity. Of interest only for hard­core fans who thrive on each and every nuance.

The second CD, the remixes, is at least formally much more creative than the first one, but still, it ain't no Telegram. Because Telegram was an artsy experience — all sorts of people who were, you could say, on the cutting edge of «technological art» back then, gathered together to pool their vision with Björk's in a variegated and stimulating mind meld. The Volta Mixes, on the other hand, seem to pursue a much more pragmatic goal — this is a strictly club-oriented dance album, going along well with some MDMA, a light show, and a vague realization that you are being stimulated by a 44-year old pretender and you don't bloody care.

Most of the remixes belong to fashionable DJs (XXXChange) or electronic experimentators (Matthew Herbert) or other people, information on whom is not even available on Wikipedia, but the results are always the same — psychedelic body muzak with chopped-up, spliced and treated fragments of Björk's spirit floating in and out more like a symbolic guide-and-protector than with any serious purpose. Honestly, it would make more sense to write about all these artists than pretend that The Volta Mixes represent different views on how to show Björk songs from some unexpected side. I am not saying that the mixes «suck» — they're fairly imaginative, and diffe­rent versions of the same song often sound nothing alike — but where Telegram was like a long line of fashion designers, each dressing the girl in his/her own haute couture, The Volta Mixes produces no such impression. All they do is just sample the tracks to fit their own visions, which often have nothing whatsoever to do with the Volta vision.

For fairness' sake, I must say that the live DVD, of which I have caught some glimpses, is far more entertaining than the rest of this stuff — the Paris show is particularly crazy, colorful, and energetic, even if it often comes close to vulgar kitsch (not something I could ever say of the Vespertine shows). But whether you will want to splurge on the whole package will ultimately depend on whether you agree with me that post-Vespertine Björk is a messy, confused, and generally dissatisfactory experience, or prefer to think that the lady has simply become «diffe­rent», but her music still makes sense, shows depth, and/or sets trends. As far as my opinion is concerned, Voltaïc is simply the perfectly adequate companion to Volta — mediocre (downright bad in places) album, suitably mediocre paraphernalia. No big surprise there.

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