ENJOYED: The Reviews Are In!

By Amrit Singh / April 2, 2008 - 6:04 pm

It’s entirely possible you don’t check Stereogum as often as we do, so drag your mouse to this link and click to download our tribute to Björk’s Post. It’s essentially a list of our favorite bands right now — Liars, Dirty Projectors, No Age, High Places, Atlas Sound, El Guincho, Final Fantasy & Ed Droste, Evangelicals, Xiu Xiu, Pattern Is Movement, Bell, White Hinterland — and it’s free. We’ll abstain from telling you how we think it turned out because that would be unseemly. But we’ve been noticing some good feedback in the comments, and some interesting mentions around the web (thanks for your mentions, everybody). None of said reviews are better than this one from LiveJournaler Richaod, though, so we’re reprinting the whole thing.

Richaod Presents… I Miss Björk – A Review of Stereogum’s Tribute to Post

I really wanted to like this cover album. I really did. And even though it fails miserably, I can probably find more redeeming qualities than most in the songs by Liars, Bell and Final Fantasy. I’ve yet to hear the previous tributes to OK Computer (I want a download, not a stream!) and Automatic for the People, so I can’t make comparisons to those.

Post is the only Björk album I physically own, and admittedly the only one I’ve listened to at length, though I’m not incredibly familiar with it. I think I quite like Björk where I should love her. The more you love Björk’s idiosyncrasies, the more you’ll likely hate these covers.

I’ve tried to be descriptive here, so I can say “I told you so” when you download the album so you can complain about me being discouraging.

Next: the track-by-track analysis…

1. Liars – Army Of Me
The first song is generally not a good place to alienate your listeners by violently beating them into submission, especially indies with a low tolerance for sludge metal. Turns the original bassline from completely badass into a cacophonous beast, making its melody somewhat irrelevant whilst halving the song’s tempo in the process. Not a bad idea, but the processed vocals and constantly abrasive atmosphere make it a difficult, even physically painful listen. Unfortunately, this is one of the stand-out (though not necessarily better) tracks here. A Black Sabbath-like version probably could’ve slowed the song without butchering it.

2. Dirty Projectors – Hyper-ballad
Puts a frivolous indie backing behind the song in the treble, stripping almost any emotion from it. What’s worse is that the male vocalist sounds like a total twee pussy, and his tendency to vibrato EVERYTHING isn’t helped by the disorienting delay between his singing in the left and right channels. And he actually vocalizes in the last chorus – something best left to your Mariah Careys and Celine Dions; at least they have technical ability. The song is about Björk throwing her possessions off a steep cliff, leaving them to the jagged rocks below… and the original melodramatic music is incredibly fitting. This sounds like a kid dropping his marbles off the top of a small incline. Whilst the other songs are unremarkable, you can make out enough of the original in this for it to actually be offensive. Piss-weak.

3. High Places – The Modern Things
I always thought Björk was wailing “Chairman Mao!!” in the Icelandic part. High Places might have been similarly confounded with what to do with the rest of the song. The vocals here echo and delay, with stuttered string samples and electronic beats, sounding more like a half-baked idea than the final cut. This is the first track to really reflect the overall subdued, pseudo-electronic feel of the rest of the album.

4. Bell – It’s Oh So Quiet
Her voice isn’t bad at all, and the verses have a likeable colourful electronic piano self-described as having a “Mozart”-type quality. Though she sings powerfully in the chorus, it’s let down by the original orchestra’s replacement by offbeat drums and synths. It flattens the dynamic contrast and power of the song rather than sounding like a successful reinterpretation.

5. Pattern Is Movement – Enjoy
Reverbed, multitracked vocals over a dissonant, almost carnivalesque backing. Kind of interesting; still not listenable.

6. Evangelicals – You’ve Been Flirting Again
Vaguely tribal drums, vaguely swirling backing, vaguely intelligible lyrics. But clearly insignificant.

7. Xiu Xiu – Isobel
This seems to aim specifically for an avant-garde sound, pushing Björk into weirder, irrelevant tangents. Where Björk managed both individuality and solid songwriting, the overinflected vocals and occasional dissonant violin (replacing the soaring strings of the original) here just sound empty.

8. Final Fantasy & Ed Droste – Possibly Maybe
The wind/string instrument trills at the beginning sound very promising, but the song is more atmospheric than lush. Plodding programmed drums are introduced with the first chorus, and the strings’ harmonies expand, but as often as not run off in wild, chromatic processed directions. While its feel is in the same vein as the last few, it’s a slight improvement (though it doesn’t need double-tracked vocals).

9. White Hinterland – I Miss You
The one live song of hers I’ve heard presented her as a typically beautiful folkie singer-songwriter – probably the wrong impression. Her vocals here sound distant, as if they’ve been recorded through a phone. Apparently her drummer “lost his kit”, so he played on pots and pans instead… maybe more appropriate for a Björk song than a full drum kit. Slightly dissonant backing keyboards, check. Continues the heads-down atmosphere.

10. El Guincho – Cover Me
Uhh. Ironically for the song title, he seems to have done nothing of the sort. It sounds as if he’s sampled his original cover of the song, copied and pasted totally unintelligible snippets, panned and processed them in sequence to give the illusion of change, and finally thrown a random dance beat behind it, because everyone knows Björk likes electronic drums. It’s not a cover, it’s not a reinterpretation, it’s just grating and irrelevant.

11. Atlas Sound – Headphones
Nice to finally hear an acoustic guitar, but it’s still buried behind vaguely electronic sounds and a distant, unintelligble vocal. But the original is equally distant, so intangible that I’ve never quite grasped it… so I can’t really say if the cover’s bad.

12. No Age – It’s Oh So Quiet (Alternate Take)
They actually play the verse clarinet melody on guitar! That’s the one good part. But the rest is not so much grunge/depressed alternative rock as a pastiche – like South Park’s take on Marilyn Manson. He transforms Chef’s original porno-funk Stinky Britches into a tuneless dirge. You know the sound – detuned, fuzzy power chords and a slurred, slacker vocal delivery containing no irony or self-awareness whatsoever.

I must admit, the worst tribute albums all have one redeeming quality – they make you appreciate the original artists more. If you disliked Björk’s singing before this, you won’t now.
Generally, I prefer covers that are reworkings, even unsuccessful ones, to weak run-throughs in the original style. But not these. The problem lies in that most of the artists here seem to feel as if a complete renovation is obligatory. A typical way of doing so is by trying to do another Jeff Buckley to Hallelujah, stripping the song down acoustically to its root chord progressions and soft vocals. Especially given the electronic nature of many of the tracks, such attempts would’ve been welcome here, even if lazily rendered. But here the self-indulgent covers sound as if the artists have tried to force more complexity into the originals whilst making them subdued at the same time. None of them reflect either Björk’s brilliance or anything that could resemble their own bands’ sound, whatever that is (I’ve previously heard of four of these artists, listened to one).

Remember that It’s Oh So Quiet is a cover in itself, of jazz song Blow a Fuse by Betty Hutton. In the end, the fact that Björk makes the triumphant cover totally hers, and these artists’ covers are weak, says everything about her and them.

Download Stereogum Presents… Enjoyed: A Tribute To Björk’s Post
I encourage you to preview the tracks before downloading the zip, if you do. And make sure you do so out of curiosity, not an expectation of good music.

Thanks for the insight, Richaod! Honestly we were scared we were setting the bar too high with this one. But “Piss-weak” is definitely beatable. Next time.