Album: Bjork – “Drawing Restraint 9” (2005)

So here we are, the moment I had been dreading, the infamous Drawing Restraint 9. Soundtrack to a high-art video installation by Bjork’s husband Matthew Barney that I haven’t quite brought myself to watch yet. Something about Bjork and Matthew on a whaling ship, getting married in a Japanese ceremony and turning into sea creatures. Business as usual then. As for the soundtrack, if you found Medulla difficult to stomach, this is really not for you. Let’s get this over with…

07 Gratitude – Actually this isn’t too bad, it’s a translation of a letter sent by a Japanese person to American General MacArthur just after the war, after he lifted a ban on Japanese whaling. It’s a touching and very Japanese sentiment, and it offers itself to an engaging recital, though turning it into a song is a bit of a stretch, and just as Thom Yorke did in “I’ve seen it all”, vocalist Will Oldham sounds like he’s trying to sing it like Bjork would, and that always jars a bit with me. The instrumentation is like something out of Vespertine; pleasant, glassy music-box notes make up the majority of the soundscape. A bit random-sounding as an arrangement, but a promising (and misleading) start. I could do without the kid’s choir though.

04 Pearl – Oh well if we are revisiting old Bjork albums, let’s bring back the terrifying throat lady from Medulla. This time she brought friends! Like a flock of asthmatic Ewoks, they huff and puff and eventually try to turn into some sort of steam engine. That ghostly harmonica (I’m told is called a Shou) gives a really strange edge to this, it’s quite unearthly, but also reminds me of some sort of sea-shanty. I guess if this is the soundtrack to a whaling vessel, it does the job well. Very eerie. The moment ruined somewhat by an Ewok reaching a sexual climax, it chugs along, a din of haunted mouth-organs and horny hyperventilating creatures.

06 Ambergris March – The bells, the bells! Back to the frosty sounds of Vespertine again, with lots of pretty chiming and shaking of sleigh-bells. I can’t help but notice I haven’t actually heard Bjork yet, I’m yet to decide if that’s a good thing or not. It just sort of continues until someone pounds on a harpsichord in a vaguely tuneful fashion. I’m not convinced myself, but it’s at least more melodic than Pearl was. It’s got some sort of beauty to it, but that harpsichord really is a bit of a racket after a while.

03 Bath – Nice of you to join us, Bjork. She’s turning the creepiness up to 11 on this one. Her barely-there vocals with only a ghostly piano sending echoey notes through from the beyond. A bit empty? Let’s have some more Bjorks. The melody is little more than a siren song, I can’t understand the words, and this is a bit of a struggle over 5 minutes. Just doesn’t go anywhere… let’s hope the scene it soundtracks was a bit more interesting.

04 Hunter Vessel – While that Japanese Shou is the new addition to the Bjork soundscape, she seems to revisit the last few albums quite a lot for inspiration. This time she makes a rather unexpected return to the brass-band sounds we heard on Selmasongs. They are in more of a menacing mood this time, and after a short introduction they give us a Jaws-esque pursuit. And that continues for 6 minutes. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a soundtrack score with the same yardstick as a Bjork studio album, as it will usually be missing context on its own. But as a piece of music it’s not one I’d really get too excited about.

02 Shimenawa
– A bit of an ear-splitter now, that mysterious Shou is back, like a strange backwards harmonica. It has a really interesting quality to its notes, but when that’s all you are given, and they are all high-pitched notes, it’s a painful listen.

03 Vessel Shimenawa – Oh no, the brass band are back for Jaws 2: The Revenge! This is little more than an addition two minutes of Hunter Vessel, totally unnecessary. STOP PARPING AT ME.

07 Storm – What’s this? Something listenable? Ish? SCOLLAM! SCOLLAM!! Yes I’m not sure what she’s shouting repeatedly at the start. I at least understand what’s going on here, there’s a storm, the music sounds dramatic and stormy. OK there are some rather horrible noisy voice effects on this, but there are thunder effects too, I at least know where I stand here. Is she singing about Halloweeeeeen? Some melody and tune here finally, that wasn’t so hard was it? I think the benchmark for this album is being set VERY low, that this somehow sounds like an incredible highlight. I need to restrain myself. That subtle echoey synth bed reminds me of “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney. That probably wasn’t intended. Actually this is getting quite boring now. I like the beepy radar noises and the drama, and it’s quite an evocative bit of soundtrack, the creaking of the ship, the wave splashes. Shame all the music gets in the way, I should just listen to one of those New Age crashing-waves CDs.

00 Holographic Entrypoint – OH HELL NO(H). Like I’ve slipped into a parallel dimension, the drama and sound effects stop and we are listening to something truly terrible: Japanese Noh vocals. I’d come across these before, their infamy as a ‘difficult’ art form, even for Japanese. But I’d never had the pleasure. She’s trying to mess with me isn’t she? TEN MINUTES OF THIS. His vocals are really painful (YooOOoOOo KoooOOOooOOO SooOoO MmIiIIiI), so much so that a guy in the background is hitting himself repeatedly with some wooden block and wailing out in pain, like he’s listening to so much Vogon poetry. TEN MINUTES!!! I was sure I’d nearly got through this last time I listened, only to my dismay I had only got through 3:40. I hope there was a titanically good reason for putting this in the film. It even feels like it finishes after about 6 minutes, but no. This is a real low point in my history of listening to anything, a real aural holocaust. I’d rather have a dog fart in my face.

05 Cetacea – Well frankly I could be stung in the ears by a bumblebee at this point and it would be a welcome change of pace. But instead we get yet another serving of Vespertine-esque, and just doing the standard Bjork wailing to a seemingly made-up tune. No more, I want to go home.

04 Antarctic Return – Finally we are here, back at the Antarctic (?!). Well just as we had on Shimenawa, we have another ear-splitting Shou solo. It’s an interesting instrument that I’d not heard before, and some of the more tuneful moments, that pulsating harmony on brief moments is really quite magical and fascinating. But mostly it’s like someone blowing a whistle in your ear, too high-pitched for me. Can I go now?

Oh GOD, you know I feel like I’ve been quite tolerant of this album, listening to it a number of times in bed. Maybe it’s something you need to be in the mood for, and I certainly would only very rarely think I’d be in the mood for this cacophony. I will never understand this sort of avant-garde crap, and it’s a really giant leap forward for Bjork into the land of impenetrable high-art bollocks. I have no desire to watch the film this belongs to (I bet they even hate when I call it a film), and this CD I can now happily consign to the Room 101 of my mind.

Keepers for the iPod: Are you KIDDING? NO! I was tempted with Storm, but listening to it again I don’t know what I was thinking.

Up next: “Volta” (2007)

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