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Björk, and her contribution to music need no introduction. Last year's Biophilia album also certainly needed no introduction, being released as 10 apps to use on our beloved smart devices and share across digital media, even bringing scientific educational residencies to New York and beyond. It’s a wonderful project, or, for the cynics, a best practice example of ‘cross channel marketing’ that somewhat overshadowed the actual music.
On Bastards, though, the music is returned front and centre for an album that's finer than the Biophilia source materials that spawned it. It's a collection of remixes that can confidently tick all the boxes every Björk release should/must have whilst bringing in a mix of new angles that are more enthralling than Biophilia’s cold, airless delve into scientifically-themed music. Whilst this is an album remixed, abstracted and pixelated further, its contributors make this collection infinitely more human.
Many of the remixes on this collection have already been released in isolation, but in this whole there’s strong cohesion. As the collection opens with Omar Souleyman's remix of ‘Crystalline’, a different pulse is injected. Omar’s chanting heavily overlays the sound of synthesizers and dabke rhythms. Björk’s own chorus lines sit in softly and also assume a repetitive chant structure, with the declarations of ‘Crystalline’ triggering heavy, hard, eastern-tinged keyboard lines. Whereas the original is a trip to the heyday of Warp Records and IDM, this is a warm, heady track that feels formless. Cut-ups are embedded into a relentless rhythm and left to sprawl, overlap and intertwine beautifully.
The These New Puritans remix of ‘Mutual Core’ is this album’s highlight. In this remix Björk is loud but intimate, an outsider wailing beautifully and everything around her is soft and full. This song glows when sat next to the medieval organs and digital hardcore crescendos of its full-length counter-part. These New Puritans pair Bjork’s voice with a softly cooing, Inuit-sounding choir, some clattered symbols and a piano. Björk's singing no longer rings through to nowhere but introduces a muted trumpet, and then reclines onto a gently ascending piano line. Maybe in its chill-out mix ending it drops the ball a little, but even this feels meditative. In its own right this is a very fine composition.
Death Grips, music’s latest provocateurs, also contribute two remixes to this compilation and provide a very happy marriage. In many ways both Björk and Death Grips occupy a similar space, or at least share an ideology – both want stay on the outside and loathe convention, but thrive on being revered by, and shaping, populist culture. Both have done so through polemically different methods. Their remix of ‘Thunderbolt’ is a juggernaut of rattling drums, eerily percussive whispers and waves of digitised backing vocals that shimmer, as does sound artist Alva Noto’s deconstruction of ‘Dark Matter’. Called an ‘Alva Noto Remodel’ he blends pipes and harmonies into a shifting constant of sound, electronic pulses twitch behind and distortion punctuates.
There really isn’t a bad incarnation on this collection, even when The Slips' remix of ‘Moon’ starts with an almost garishly confidence so as to be uninteresting, it soon decays into a marching rhythm of glitches as music boxes tumble away in unison.
When Björk has to dole out her tracks to an eclectic army of remixers to sound even slightly normal - and in the process sounds stunning – her talent shows itself to be so big it’s almost hilarious.
- Björk - Bastards
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