[25 October 2011]
When it was first announced that Björk and the Dirty Projectors were collaborating, it was expected that the genius instrumentation of 2009’s Bitte Orca would have Björk’s soothing falsetto over it, and that sounded like a goddamn gold mine for critical praise. In a day and age in which critical praise spawns from surprise and experimentation, neither of these two needed to further expand their horizons. All listeners needed was David Longstreth’s bizarrely innate orchestration with Björk’s haunting vocals, and Mount Wittenberg Orca would be another peak in the artists’ already phenomenal discography. Yet, instead, the EP relies heavily on the Projectors’ staccato voice symphony and disregards the bold layering of songs such as “Temecula Sunrise” or “Stillness is the Move.” So though it’s the work of two of today’s most influential and creative musicians (15 years apart from one another, of course), it has the smell of mediocrity all over it, like a rushed project that didn’t give itself enough time to breathe.
Originally intended as a one-time fling at a benefit concert in Brooklyn in 2009, the seven-song set was recorded over a year later and sold digitally with all proceeds to go to the National Geographic Society in aid of the creation of international marine protected areas. (Hence the EP’s emphasis on ocean life.) Now more than a year later, the label has put out the hard copy CD release and vinyl, pretty much for the sole purpose of the record company squeezing out money from either artists’ diehard fans. (There’s always someone who needs to own absolutely everything on vinyl.) Yet this EP doesn’t challenge either artist, rather making the affair sound like, well, exactly what it was: a random meet-up. It’s 20-plus minutes of Björk’s signature voice over the hooing and hawings of the Projectors’ Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, whom were beautiful on Bitte Orca but get almost to the point of irritation on Mount Wittenberg Orca, chirping more like baby chicks for their mother (such as on “Beautiful Mother”) than wailing angelically like the sirens luring Odysseus to his death.
Other than Longstreth’s solo during the finale of “When the World Comes to an End,” there isn’t a track that stands out here. “No Embrace” attempts to employ that sensationalized instrumentation for which Bitte Orca was hailed, but it falls flat with an abrupt crescendo within the final thirty seconds after four minutes of slow crooning. “On and Ever Onward” could gain some attention, but more so for sounding like the ‘50s doo-wop that She & Him has revived than for being artistic. And though “Sharing Orb” was recorded entirely with vocals-only (like the intro to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”), it still doesn’t have the perplexity of the best vocal inflections on Bitte Orca, nor what we’ve heard of Björk during nearly the past 20 years. Both have already proven they’re capable of such a track, so the surprise is nonexistent.
So it’s not that Mount Wittenberg Orca showcases a lack of talent, but that it more so showcases a collaboration doing little with what it has available to them. Björk’s vocals match the integrity of her catalogue, but the Projectors settle for trying to match that with her, and it’s disappointing to see Longstreth step into the background. For a guy whose band was built entirely around him, that’s the worst move he ever could have made. Is it worth seeing a second collaboration? Probably not; these artists should continue doing what they do best: making albums of their own.