Even by Bjork’s increasingly avant-garde standards, her 2011 eighth studio album, Biophilia, was a challenging listen. Self-described as a record designed to “define humanity’s relationship with sound and the universe” and initially released via a series of interactive apps, its blend of deliberately obtuse melodies, warped electronica and neo-classical stylings mesmerised and bewildered in equal measure.
So with such an abstract palette of sounds to choose from, remix album Bastards, surprisingly only the third such release of her career, seems like a no-brainer. However, collected from various re-workings already available through several E.P.s, there’s very little here which makes the original record more accessible.
There are a couple of nods to the bass-wobble culture infiltrating the charts. Current Value transforms the ambient Turkish balladry of “Solstice” into a speaker-blasting slice of dubstep, while Death Grips gives the gothic nu-synth of “Thunderbolt” a twisted grime makeover.
But as its attention-grabbing title suggests, Bastards isn’t intended to return Bjork to her mid-90s commercial heyday. If anything, it’s even more wilfully weird and wonderful, whether it’s Matthew Herbert surrounding the juddering electro of “Mutual Core” with a nightmarish wall of oppressive sounds; Omar Souleyman transporting the glitchy music box lullaby of “Crystalline” to the streets of Syria with its layers of Middle Eastern chants Arabic folk rhythms and snake-charming instrumentation; or Alva Noto fusing the ghostly a cappella harmonies of “Dark Matter” with slow-building twitchy industrial beats.
But ironically, the track which adheres to the ‘less is more’ theory proves to be the album’s crowning glory. Featuring a lone gospel piano and the occasional flourish of trip-hop percussion, These New Puritans render “Mutual Core” virtually unrecognisable, largely thanks to the enchanting presence of the Solomon Islands singers, who blend together perfectly with Bjork’s otherworldly tones.
Indeed, although not every remix creates such magical results (The Slips’ playful tinkering of “Moon” sounds half-hearted compared to the overwhelming sense of ambition elsewhere), every single contributor appears to understand that the focus should always remain on the Icelandic chanteuse’s bewitching vocal presence.
Bastards, therefore, won’t suddenly win back those who have found her more recent output far too esoteric. But it’s a rare example of a remix album which both complements its source material and works as a stand-alone record in its own right.