Various Artists – Read: Interpreting Bjork

Various Artists
Read: Interpreting Bjork

Tribute albums have picked up the reputation as a sketchy concept lately, courtesy of the group of idiots who thought it would be a great idea to start recording knock-offs of entire albums of the latest flash-in-the-pan pop stars and then sell them with packaging that looks far too similar to the artwork of the actual album being “paid tribute to’ (and anyone who’s been in any sort of chain store that sells CDs in the last year or so knows exactly what I’m talking about). Thankfully, though, there are still a handful of labels that actually treat tribute albums the way they should be handled – as a meaningful tribute to a revered and respected artist, rather than a cheap way to make a few bucks when people can’t tell the difference between an actual CD and the vastly inferior “tribute’ disc.
All the respect and admiration in the world isn’t enough to make this particular disc an easy sell, though – Bjork is a very quirky and enigmatic performer. Her recordings rely on a great deal of personal style, making it hard to really replicate her songs with any degree of consistency. Thankfully, as the title of this compilation refers to, this group of artists seems to understand that, and in turn, these 10 acts here take the road less traveled, attempting to “interpret’ Bjork songs rather than just blandly covering them. Admittedly, some acts have more success than others, but all in all, nothing here is rendered unlistenable, which is quite the compliment in itself.
The most surprising thing about Read: Interpreting Bjork is the fact that so many male vocalists appear on the disc. Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard teams up with Ben Barnett (aka Kind of Like Spitting) for a memorable take on “Joga,” taking the lush orchestral track and turning it into a starkly beautiful acoustic-guitar-and-voice number. Unfortunately, though, Barnett’s quirky, jazz-laced take on “In the Musicals” (as Kind of Like Spitting) isn’t quite as strong.
Bobby Birdman (better known as Rob Kieswetter, backing musician for Wil Oldham) offers up a super-sweet, very nice rendition of “Unravel” that glides along on a bed of accordion, gospel-styled backing vocals and a brass section. The Decemberists pull off the biggest coup of the album, as the band’s cover of “Human Behaviour” is note-perfect to Bjork’s (Colin Meloy even hits all the vocal parts), although in a weird twist, it also manages to stand out amongst the disc as the track that carries the most personality of the band covering it.
Kaitlyn Ni Donovan‘s take on “The Hunter” provides the most Bjork-like vocal line (over an electro-accordion beat, with accompaniment that sounds like a bassoon!), while the very talented Esperanza Spalding gives Noise For Pretend‘s “It’s Oh So Quiet” a very sexy, jazzy/cabaret feel with her breathy vocal style. Corrina Repp‘s vocals actually completely carry her downtrodden, sparse version of “You’ve Been Flirting Again,” though the cutesy female backing part on Blanket Music‘s take on “Hyper-Ballad” still take the cake as the best fitting vocal piece on this compilation.
The most pleasantly surprising tracks pop up towards the end of the album, though. The Roots of Orchis do an amazing job with “Possibly Maybe,” giving the track a massive DJ Shadow/Portishead ambient vibe with a mix of organic instruments and dub-DJ style. Pete Miser‘s “Immature” takes the same sort of vibe and drives it a bit further, adding some scratching to his very soulful/R&B styled dub interpretation to give the track a bit of a “club mix’ vibe.
All in all, considering how much of this “interpretations’ disc is wound around Hush Records artists (basically everyone except Roots of Orchis, Ben Gibbard, and Pete Miser is associated with the label), this is a surprisingly diverse and fun compilation. It really doesn’t hurt things any that most of the songs will already be familiar to most folks that would be interested in hearing this disc. All things considered, there are a lot worse things I could spend my money on – recommended to fans of Bjork or the artists representing her songs.