What’s in the bag? (25)

Björk – Vulnicura. This is the ninth studio album by Björk. It was produced by Björk, Arca and The Haxan Cloak, and released on 20 January 2015 by One Little Indian Records. Björk allegedly said the album expresses her feelings following her breakup with artist Matthew Barney (For whom she created the soundtrack to the film ‘Drawing Restraint 9).

You may recall that Vulnicura was originally scheduled for release in March, in conjunction with the Björk: Archives book and an exhibition about Björk’s career at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Unfortunately, following an internet leak, it was released digitally two months early.

I first heard tracks from Vulnicura on the ‘Sound Opinions’ podcast and I was somewhat disappointed in myself, as I didn’t make up my own opinion, which I would usually do, and just accepted theirs. This is not to say they were wrong, but having now listened to the entire album, my opinion differs. The long and short of it is that this is a much better album than I was expecting. I had also heard another track on the ‘All Songs Considered’ podcast and that actually raised my expectations shortly before hearing the whole album. The song in question was ‘Atom Dance’, on which Björk is accompanied by Antony Heggarty, which I thought spectacular. Having now listened to the album as a whole, I do think it is probably her best work since ‘Vespertine’. Admittedly, there are no pop hits included and the tone is generally dark and brooding, as one would expect when dealing with difficult subject matter, although album closer, ‘Quicksand’ is rather upbeat tempo wise. The quality of the songs themselves shines through regardless of the mood and the track sequencing does cause the listening experience to have a sense of there having been a journey.

My version comes in a gatefold sleeve which is cased in an acetate slipcase, it really is a beautiful thing. The acetate links with the moving album cover, which was backed by the track ‘Family’, although this is 8:09 in length rather than the 2:35 included in the first video below. I suppose it was a teaser as much as anything and the first single release proper, ‘Lionsong’, also below, is a beautiful track that discusses her feelings some 5 months before they finally split up and captures the sense of a moment when a relationship breaks down. Specifically when you just want it to end so that you can move on. The lyrics are rather oddly constructed, but many of Bjorks are;

Maybe he will come out this
Maybe he won’t
Somehow I’m not too bothered either way

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he will come out of this
I smell declarations of solitude
Maybe he will come out of this

Vietnam vet comes after the war
Lands in my house
This wild lion doesn’t fit in this chair

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he won’t
I’m not taming no animal
Maybe he will come out of this

Once it was simple, one feeling at a time
It reached this peak then transformed
This abstract complex feeling
I just don’t know how to handle when
Should I throw oil on one of these wounds
But which one?
The joy peak
Humor peak
Frustration peak
Anything peak for clarity

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he won’t
I’m not taming no animal
Maybe he will come out of this

Maybe he will come out of this
Maybe he won’t
Somehow I’m not too bothered either way

I refuse, it’s a sign of maturity
To be stuck in complexity
I demand all clarity

Maybe he will come out of this
Or he will feel so solitaire
Somehow I’m not too bothered
I’d just like to know

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Tracklist:
Stonemilker
Lionsong
History of Touches
Black Lake
Family
Notget
Atom Dance
Mouth Mantra
Quicksand

Listening now, with a decent set of headphones, I can say that, sonically, this is beautifully constructed collection of songs. It is string laden, but also contains the sort of beats one would expect from Bjork. It has been described in one review as operatic, and I’d agree with that even though I find much opera to be impenetrable. This is not, it is open, and it is often uncomfortable and has a deep feeling of sadness, but it is not without hope. This is the journey through the nine tracks, from realisation to release and I do think that there is a positive feeling at the end of the album.

It isn’t available on Spotify as yet but below are some official videos that are available, and, as usual, the visuals are lovely.

8.3/10

What’s in the bag? (24)

IMAG0456

I knew nothing about this album until about 10 years ago. It was released when I was 8 and isn’t the sort of thing an eight year old listens to really. When I did come across it during a Dylan phase where I listened to everything in the back catalogue I was rather hooked, it’s pretty obvious, to me at least, why this album is considered to be one of the best ever made, well it’s in most top 100 albums ever lists which I always disagree with, but I’m sure everybody does. The NME’s version, for example, has Suede’s ‘Dog Man Star’, and Kanye West higher in their top 500, nothing wrong with those albums I guess but neither are better than this.’Blood on the tracks’ is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a single bad track on it, some are rather unpleasant, sure, but they’re still good and, as with many Dylan albums the lyrics have meaning, and complexity, there’s just no fluff. I’m not going to try to dissect the album, it’s been done to death (and there’s an interesting article here:  popmatters), I’m just going to say that it is a milestone piece of work and everybody should listen at least once.

9.3/10

What’s in the bag? (23)

Back with Rush again, and that gig I mentioned in my last post. Way back in 1981 (when I was fourteen) I bought a ticket for the ‘Exit Stage Left’ tour well in advance. I put the ticket, under a weight, on top of my wardrobe, the top being at about head height, and I saw it every day sitting there, waiting for the day I could use it. Naturally I was rather excited about this as it involved four or five of us travelling down to London from Didcot, on the train, and then on the tube to Wembley, and back again after the gig. Having sat on the wardrobe for several months, it went missing a couple of weeks before the gig. By went missing I mean that somebody took it, I didn’t misplace it, didn’t lose it, it was under a weight and it didn’t just blow away.

This didn’t stop me going. We all went down, four of us with tickets and me without. I did manage to get a ticket from a tout but I was some distance form the stage, whereas everybody else was pretty near the front, in the first twenty rows somewhere. It was still a decent view though. They told me afterwards that nobody took my place with my ticket, but they may well have known them and decided not to tell me. In many ways I would rather that somebody turned up rather than take the ticket and not use it, which feels rather more spiteful.

The internet is a wonderful thing as a quick search provided me with the set list from that gig, her’s a link to the site I found it on:

Setlist.fm

And here is the set list of the tracks they played that night:

2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
Freewill
Limelight
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
Beneath, Between & Behind
Subdivisions (Early version)
The Camera Eye
YYZ
Drum Solo
Broon’s Bane
The Trees
Xanadu
The Spirit of Radio
Red Barchetta
Closer to the Heart
Tom Sawyer
Vital Signs
Working Man
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part IV: Armageddon
By-Tor & The Snow Dog
In the End
In the Mood
2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

Encore:
La Villa Strangiato

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It was a great set that leaned heavily on ‘Moving Pictures’, which had been their last studio album and is still a favourite of mine. The event was spoiled somewhat for me at the time by all the goings on but now, 34 years later, I can look back on it rather fondly because I still got to see them and it was a damn fine gig. I put together the set list as a Spotify playlist as best I could and it’s below, after that is ‘Exit Stage Left’ itself, it’s a twofor!

8.4/10

And then I found this, which is rather spiffy:

WHAT’S IN THE BAG? (20, 21, 22)

Rush have never been cool, and never will be, but they are a large section of the soundtrack to my adolescence and have, in one way or another, been with me for 35 years. This is a bloody long time, though we did part ways in 1985 with the last thing I bought by them being Power Windows, which I really liked but I was heading in a different direction taste wise and have never listened to the next 9 albums. That’s not to say I won’t, but I think things began to get a bit keyboard centric for me at the time.

The bag contained three Rush albums, the first three, Rush, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel. Their first reminds me in perhaps too many ways of Led Zeppelins first. The songs don’t necessarily sound the same, it’s the feel of the whole thing that makes it reminiscent for me, from the minimal colour on the sleeve to there being rather a lot of riffing going on (which is not necessarily a negative).

Original drummer, John Rutsey, does a fine job, but he isn’t Neil Peart, then again who is? The difference is immediately evident with ‘Fly By Night’ opener, Anthem where the addition of Peart adds a complexity that wasn’t previously there. Of these three albums the third, Caress of Steel, is probably my least favourite, ‘I think I’m going bald’ is, frankly, annoying and I could probably do without 19 minutes and 58 seconds of ‘The Fountain Of Lamneth’, and in the entire Rush canon, i could also do without all Tolkien references and Tolkienesque lyrics (Such as Rivendell on Fly By Night). I don’t dislike this aspect as such, but now it all seems somewhat twee.

I have seen Rush live once, which was, I’m pretty sure, the ‘Exit Stage Left’ tour, oddly a tour to promote a live album. It was at Wembley Arena, London, in 1981. I remember two things most vividly about this concert, the first was the opening notes of Tom Sawyer and the second was wishing they’d hurry up and get to the end of ‘By-Tor and the bloody Snow Dog’, although I think that was because it was getting a bit late by now and I had a two hour train journey home afterwards. I do actually rather like the track. Out of curiosity I looked up the following:

  • Rush’s road manager Howard Ungerleider came up with the title at a party. There were two dogs at the party, one a German shepherd and the other a tiny white nervous dog. Howard used to call the shepherd By-Tor because anyone that walked into the house was bitten. The other dog was a snow-dog (white). So from that night on Howard called the pair of dogs “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” The dogs belonged to Rush’s manager.

    from – Songfacts

There will be more about this concert in a future post, but for now I would like to say just a couple more things, I would really love to be cool and only talk about really hip bands, but bollocks to that, I love a bit of Rush. Also, I will probably give those missing 9 albums a go at some point as there’s a very high possibility that I’m missing out on some good stuff. Here are the first three albums for your listening pleasure

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Rush 8.2/10
Caress Of Steel 8.3/10
Fly By Night 8.3/10

What’s in the bag? (19)

IMAG0584I was in Head in Leamington, just flicking through the racks, and quite by accident I came across ‘Von’ by Sigur Rós. Though I wasn’t looking for it I wanted it, so I bought it. This was their first album, and opens with the track ‘Sigur Rós’, it’s dramatic, it’s moody, it’s like the soundtrack to your worst nightmare. The whole album is quite different to what was to come, it has a raw edge in places and a darkness, but these are interspersed with those moments of beauty for which Sigur Rós are known. It’s there throughout, but treading water beneath the surface before drifting up and out into the air before slipping slowly under again. It’s quite experimental and much of it neatly aligns with the Post-Rock genre, but not entirely, they always seem out of place to me in that category, but people like categories so I guess that’s where they must sit.

So ‘Von’, it means hope, and I consciously avoid any pun or play on words at this point, as it’s their first release it’s fairly obvious.This is undoubtedly the more difficult of their releases to listen to, but all the ingredients are there, the recipe is just a little different and I find that less is often more, even amongst noise that is unlistenable (which this isn’t)  brief moments of clarity can be quite beautiful.

Included below the spotify album is a version of the track, ‘Von’.

9.2/10

What’s in the bag? (18)

I had this onIMAG0572 cassette when it came out and played it to death. I’ve no idea if these are considered good remixes or not as each track is now so familiar to me that I wouldn’t be the best person to judge. I know that remixes are not everybody’s cup of tea, but they are a large part of what Bjork, in particular, is all about. Since early on in her solo career the 12″ singles would have remixes included, there would be multiple CD singles with different mixes, the album ‘Bastards’  consists of remixes from Biophilia (2011), which were all previously released on The Crystalline Series or the Biophilia Remix Series. There is also the majestic ‘Telegram’, which I have on CD and adore, the Deodato remix of ‘Isobel’ is worth the price of the CD alone, and the ‘Possibly maybe’ (Lucy Mix), well, I think I prefer it to the original. Voltaic was the dedicated Volta remix, which I don’t think I’ve listened to so I must, soon.

Back to the Sugarcubes, if you were not a fan of Einar Örn Benediktsson and his talky/shouty bits (I like them but they aren’t for everybody) these are toned down or messed about with in the remixes so if that’s what puts you off, give them another go in the ‘It’s-It’ incarnation. Listen via spotify below or watch the non-remix versions below that.

8.0/10