08 May 2007
Björk: Initial Thoughts on Volta
The new Neurosis album, Given to the Rising, was supposed to be out today. I had held off any downloading of it especially; I hadn't even listened to the song the band themselves put on My Space (I'm still uncomfortable with a band like Neurosis being on a site like that). Virgin didn't have it; HMV didn't have it; Crash was bloody closed. A trip to Jumbo revealed that, while it was due to be out today, the album had only been 'sold through' last week. No idea what that means, but the upshot is apparently me waiting until the twenty-first for it. So near, yet so far.
More reliable on the punctual release front than Neurot Recordings (for the album is their first to be officially self-released. Well done) is One Little Indian. The album in question? Well, it's a little late for me to attempt any mystery as it's up there in the header. That's right, today (technically yesterday) saw the release of another album I had abstained from downloading, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir's newie, Volta. Personally I consider it her first proper new album in six years - since the magnificent Vespertine - as I wasn't all that enamoured with vocals-only Medulla nor the random soundtrackage of Music from Drawing Restraint 9. Excitement then.
There was also rather a bit of hype. Rather Mike Patton-on-Peeping Tom, Björk mentioned that this was her big, brash pop record and that she was wheeling loads of guests into the studio. Like a good version of Madonna then. And hopefully a good version of Peeping Tom at that. Well, it's not that it was bad per se, just rather disappointing, given the half-decade wait and facetious comparisons by Patton to Fred Durst and Sisqo. Oh, what could have been... Anyway, this album was going to boast such names as Timbaland, Lightning Bolt Drummer and Antony T. Johnson. Or something. And it turns out that my boy Mark Bell was doing some production. He occasionally releases albums as LFO and consistently rules the school. He also put me in mind of Q-Tip guesting on a Beastie Boys record. That's one for the thinking cap wearers among you.
So I ended up getting the limited edition, specially packaged version and maybe I shouldn't have. For a start it cost way more, and I have no 5.1 surround system on which to play the DVD audio. The packaging itself is extremely pretty, something of a modern day Babooshka doll, what with card cases containing gradually smaller ones (each with great photos of the lady herself with blue face and body literally ablaze), until we get to the card-contained discs. Weirdly, the front of the case seems to open up, but is sealed with a sticker of the cover graphic. I didn't want to break the seal, so ended up opening the thing from the top. God knows if that was what I was meant to do. Anyway, the CD is now stored elsewhere, so the case is back in the cellophane, like that last Tomahawk album.
I was very impressed with the music itself. There were a few tears before bedtime on a message board I frequent because some people were disappointed with it upon hearing a download. Not wanting content spoilers, I didn't read too attentively. Maybe they expected something different, which is weird as - like I mentioned above - this was always going to be a day-glo pop album, and therefore polar opposite of the lush likes of Homogenic or Vespertine.
The first song was, I think, a Timbaland one, and established the mood very well. Can't remember too much about it, but these are initial thoughts so it's all good. It reminded me, as the album generally did, of her Debut, from the ostensible simplicity of the mix to the gleeful ebullience of the vocal. I was pretty much happy with the way things were unfolding, in a not-blown-away kind of way, until 'Dull Flame of Desire' found its way onto the Death Deck. Man alive was Antony ever impressive on this tune. I didn't mind I Am a Bird Now and was irritated by his presence on the disappointing second CocoRosie album , so I wasn't sure what to expect. Bizarrely, his early entrance into the mix (initially a surprise to hear a male voice by this point on the album) reminded me of Burton C. Bell. Anybody who knows who he is without summoning the Great Gazoogle or Wikipedia leave a comment and get kudos. Anyway, the duet was so sweet and wonderful that I would have been happy it it never ended; it was even better than the Björk/Yorke duet 'I've Seen it All'. Nice one.
The quality continued for another couple of songs until the very beginning of the second half, coincidentally enough. Not that 'Vertebrae by Vertebrae' is a particularly bad song, just that it was neither here nor there - the kind of thing one might hope would get quality controlled off the album. Things thankfully took a turn for the better to close the record, but the first half definitely seems superior to the second. I never thought I'd be so happy for Antony to return for the last song, but there you go. Possibly the most interesting song on the album is also in the 'weak' half: 'Declare Independence' is a pretty screamy noisefest that really pleasantly surprised me. I had comparisons in my mind when it was on, but I've unfortunately forgotten them now. Maybe it'll come back to me. There was a strange moment when it reminded me of a fuzzed-out 'Sugar is Sweeter', but maybe that was an aberration. Good single, though, even if it was just a poor mans 'Poison'.
And one of the songs reminded me of The Knife, which is definitely a good thing. Again, unsure (I knew I should have finished this last night...). Maybe it was the first track, actually. It had a boss, weirdo, chorus either way. A bit 'We Share Our Mother's Health', perhaps. Anyway, I'm happy with the album, as it was what I expected; no more, no less. It also makes for a quicker fifty-five minutes than Vespertine did. This will be due to the album, while reaching nowhere near the 2001 albums peaks, not dropping off to the extent that one does near the end. Or maybe it's just because Vespertine is so emotionally powerful, and Volta intentionally frothy for the most part.
Postscript: There, I think I've caught all the typos. That's what happens when you write straight to Blogger without the safety net of Word. Also this is an illuminating and enjoyable read. It's a 'special' on the album, complete with diagram of how the packaging opens up. I remain sceptical on that front.