62.30 min • One Little Indian • November 19, 2012
Björk is no stranger to her music being remixed. She has consistently welcomed fellow musicians and DJs to deconstruct and rework her music, the results of which have been issued on single releases or grouped together for an album, much like this one.
In 2011, the Icelandic singer revealed her eighth studio album, Biophilia, which may be her most ambitious and interdisciplinary project to date. The concept behind the album explores parallels between music, science, nature and technology. Plugged as “the first app album”, the music was created by and designed to be interactive on an iPad, with each song having a connected app to engage with its themes and structures. Biophilia did not simply stop there; it also encompassed educational workshops for children, specially-made instruments (including a 30 foot musical pendulum tuned to Earth’s gravitational pull), live show residencies in the major cities across the world and an upcoming documentary with the documentary-maker prodigy, David Attenborough. Those who did not possess an iPad were assured that the album could be enjoyed solely as a stand-alone record.
The album didn’t match the innovative, experimental and often abstract discourses of her previous records. Although it contained some brilliant moments to be shared, it felt as though the simplistic song compositions accommodated the practical aspect of the iPad interactive function rather than the listener’s experience.
One year on from its release, Björk has handpicked a selection of remixes that stemmed from the album. The tongue-in-cheek title of Bastards underlines the humour often overlooked in her music, suggesting that these stray remixes have found a home in this release away from – for want of a better term – the mother album. Remixes themselves can often be sniffed at or ignored as some can simply be less-inspired edits with a few extra beeps or swizzed-up tempos. When done right, remixes can be a real treat. I hold a firm belief that a remix should only be attempted if the aim is to better (or add to) the original or give it a whole new context. Thankfully, every song on Bastards remoulds and reimagines the material Biophilia and pumps it full of new blood and beats.
The album opens with the Omar Souleyman remix of ‘Crystalline’, which takes its angelic chimes and turns it into an Arabian dancefloor filler. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Following this startling opener we are taken on many bends, including the majestic spin on ‘Virus’ by Hudson Mohawke, then we bounce along with The Slips on their take on the originally sparse ‘Moon’, and are thrown to the dogs by Current Value on his menacing remix of ‘Solstice’. Even ‘Mutual Core’, the most full-bodied song on Biophilia, is taken to another level by long-time collaborator Matthew Herbert, with layers of sludgy electronic sounds and distorted vocals to give the song a greater eruptive and destructive potential. The strength of Bastards is that it feels strangely as distinctive as it does cohesive. You could be fooled into thinking this is an original body of work as it contains the charming and addictive idiosyncrasies of Björk’s albums to date.
There is no question that Björk is one of the most important alternative voices of our generation. Not only has she pushed boundaries in terms of composition and production, she has also encouraged public recognition of women as visionaries in music and challenged the associated notions of misogyny for twenty years. You can always count that at least one of her albums will chart high on any ‘Top 50 Albums’ or ‘Best Of’ features amongst a swarm of male indie contemporaries. So what if Biophilia is not her most musically courageous venture; the project itself continues to extend and strive in being creative, inviting new collaborations and breaking her own limitations and her role as a musician.
Some say that good artists borrow, great artists steal. If this is the case, each and every remix on here is a masterful product of thievery, as this compilation is exhilarating and outshines some of its source material. It’s no surprise that people may roll their eyes at the idea of an album of remixes, but there are some worth sitting up and paying attention to. Will Bastards reach the masses beyond Björk enthusiasts and music blogosphere? Probably not. Yet for those who do discover this album will see the flourishing results and worth of remixing.