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Various Artists: Read: Interpreting Björk

Mervin Malone Jr

Various Artists

Read: Interpreting Björk

Label: Hush
US Release Date: 2004-02-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

In all honesty, tribute albums are either extremely bad, or at the most, terminally uninteresting. In its favor, Read: Interpreting Björk isn't so much a tribute album as it is a covers collection which, as the title states, reinterprets many of the choice recordings of singer and performing artist Björk. The artists at Hush Records cover these songs, recasting them as indie-pop confections. "It's Oh So Quiet", "Hyper-Ballad", "Human Behavior" -- these are many of the brilliant singles that have colored the Icelandic pixie's career.

Diehard fans of Björk will no doubt find this collection pretentious. Björk is, after all, as notorious as Madonna for recreating herself with each consecutive album, though more believably. Musically, there's precious little of Björk in these covers. They are, after all, mostly acoustic -- a far cry from Björk's predominantly electronic aesthetic. Moreover, the song selection is somewhat disorienting as many definitive Björk tracks like "Army of Me", "Big Time Sensuality", "I Miss You", "Isobel", "Venus As A Boy", and "Violently Happy" are noticeably not covered. Still, Read: Interpreting Björk is an earnest, if not spectacular reading of her material.

Noise for Pretend starts things off with their rather subdued reading of "It's Oh So Quiet", a far cry from Björk's heretofore serene-cum-frenetic original. Next, Blanket Music turns in a slightly jazz-tinged interpretation of "Hyper-Ballad", a cover made interesting only by the subtle anguish in its vocals.

Several of the more interesting tracks on the album are largely devoid of the acoustics that color the majority of the collection. Kaitlyn Ni Donovan's cover of "The Hunter", for instance, finds Donovan's haunting vocals gliding atop a darkly percussive atmosphere that uses woodwinds sparingly. The equally haunting trip-hop rendition of "Possibly Maybe" by the Roots of Orchis is a true standout; it includes novelty voice samples (not by Björk), as well as DJ scratch effects.

The Decemberists turn in a rather angst-filled rendition of "Human Behavior", which, aside from the aforementioned cover of "Hyper-Ballad" by Blanket Music, is the most disquieting of the songs. "You've Been Flirting Again", as covered by Corrina Repp, is dark, plodding and melancholic, a significant divergence from Björk's string-laden original, which seems, by comparison, like a parody. Ben Gibbard covers "Joga", with Ben Barnett; theirs is the most poignant of the collection's remakes.

Peter Miser's reading of "Immature", though funkier, plays in much the same way as the Roots of Orchis' remake of "Possibly Maybe", with spare electronics and DJ scratch moves. Bobby Birdman's interpretation of "Unravel" sounds like a cheesy polka outtake, as it uses accordion, of all things, while Kind of Like Spitting's instrumental rendition of "In the Musicals" maintains the hectic pace of the original.

When all is said and done, Read: Interpreting Björk is an admirable recording for its sincerity, if not its listenability. There is precious little here in the way of musical innovation, much less listening pleasure. What it lacks in originality and enjoyability, however, it makes up for with affective singing and strong instrumental performances. This is, after all, a covers collection. Anyone in search of novelty should check out the original Björk full-lengths from which these were derived, those being Debut, Post, Homogenic, and Selmasongs: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack Dancer in the Dark.

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