Björk: Greatest Hits

Kila Packett


Greatest Hits

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2002-11-05
UK Release Date: 2002-11-04

Completion of a great work-of-art cannot be easily matured by instinct alone. This is especially when many hands are involved in fashioning the project. Is there really such a thing as a complete work of art, anyway? Perhaps a musical compilation of an artist who's garnered an explicitly avant-garde career should not display the near-sighted accessories of musical potential, i.e. illuminating the experiment rather than the complete work. Wagner coined the term as Gesamtkunstwerk. In other words, this survey of accomplishment ought to provide the listener with a foundation of sorts -- an effervescent biography of information or CV of achievement. What I'm getting at is a question of what makes something complete, and Björk demonstrates her musical prowess in this profound way. She exists both as a brilliantly vigorous musician and as the meek kitten (or swan, rather) of popular eccentrics. Coincidentally, her fans that chose from singles to create her greatest hits album compiled this bibliography. In her first compilation of record success Björk takes the stage as a consummate and self-effacing pro.

Taking up a petite facet of contemporary music Björk leads the circus of dreamy pop/rock/orchestral/dance-infused clatter (the genres continue). The wonderment and originality of her music still shapes the growing interest of her fan base, young and old alike. With wizard-like panache she seizes ambient purrs, electro-beats, percussive blasts, horned melodies, stringed harmonies and stirs them into a cauldron heated with her own imaginative flare. With the help of a fantastic assembly team the result is a cacophonous mixture of scintillating sensations, newly realized impressions and fountains of sweet flowing sounds. Upon hearing her music we may reminisce about things like clouds in the sky, blankets of unraveled sex, tender growth spurts, robotic massages, framed kisses, heart pulses, leaves falling, and currents of pleasure or an unborn baby smiling inside its mother.

It is not unknown that Björk's musical career began with the Icelandic punk band, the Sugarcubes, far before she started recording as a solo artist. However, to grasp her evolutionary output and sheer resonance as Electronic Diva #1 it is important to take note of her various metamorphoses in the past decade. Starting with the fresh young London club beats of Debut(1993), to the matured self-introspection and international power of Post(1995), toward the reinventing dynamics of Homogenic(1997) and eventually the femininity that silhouettes Icelandic echoes in Vespertine(2001).

Forging through the massive straits and glacial rocks that form Iceland, her music reveals a cerebral "soundscape" of wind-chimed compositions wrought with emotion and sensitivity. Each song is intricately manufactured to the tiniest tap, squeal and swell. After all, Björk is, in her unique self, an electronic sorceress -- a fantastic mind-bender of musical genres. She is an immense talent otherwise known as a humming electronic elf.

Björk begins her Greatest Hits album saying "all is full of love" -- a blatant, worldwide celebratory symbol of the chaotic and beautiful ways of the universe. We are reminded of the tragic sense of nature or the blind nectar of love's ability to blur the senses. Life's voyage through the stones of history towards the annals of electronic music. Her lyrics, "You've been given love/You've been taken care of" are sung to us as if we are her children or her lover. Whether this phrase is directed to the listener or to the lover in Björk's imagination does not matter, because it is only a pre cursor to love that pervades throughout the album.

That fans chose these singles is not surprising. However, the album neglects some of my favorite tracks from Debut such as "Crying", "One Day" and "Violently Happy". Of course, it's the dancer in me who prefers the house-tinged base line and soulful hum of those tracks. Additionally, the Underworld remix of "Human Behavior" is a masterpiece of evolving dance floor chemistry. But with these chosen greatest hits we are witnesses to an emotionally heavier side of Björk. That said, the darkly sublime mystery of "Pagan Poetry" channels certain inane powers of life experience that can only be found by wandering the tundras of Iceland.

The transition from track to track is poignantly seamless and adequate to the mood each track evokes. The second track, "Hyperballad", (my favorite) reminds us why Björk's dance hits stay with us. The constant beat of the drum is in trance-like motion -- endlessly lucid and fantasizing.

In songs like "Joga" and "In Our Hands" Björk's distinctly broken voice dances nakedly across the canvas like a newborn child -- virginal and sensually full of life. Beautifully chimed ticks, scratches, clangs and lush melodic vibrations support her breathy voice. With layers and layers of nicely timed loops, rings, and jingles she has concocted a stereophonic world of audible feasting.

Björk's raw, almost aching bellows in "Pagan Poetry" opens a novel of unaffected emotion -- an animal-like quality captured masterfully in the human voice. Björk has perfected the technique of melodic hollering.

Another example of her unique approach to design would be the bursting of choral canonic phrasing, looping, and high register pitched sounds in "Hidden Place". These choral developments have a haunting affect on the ear.

This compilation deserves accolades, not only for a free sense of style but for putting, in such proximity, the surest and most arresting songs of Björk's solo musical life thus far (give or take a few). Björk has laid down the law of acid-fused dream pop/rock sensibility -- a blueprint of the pleasure in herself. Hand in hand this compilation finds itself among the beautifully silent miracles that invade the audible minds of this generation. This is the kind of compilation that you could give to your lover or your grandmother. And I'm sure Björk would approve of my grandmother kicking it back to "Isobel" on a warm Nebraska spring day. Or sitting amazingly teary-eyed to "Venus As a Boy". Björk's reverence is made clear by silent worship. She is, all at once, an ancient muse, a suckling flower, and a rocket scientist in the world of digital and anarchic melodies.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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