erasing clouds

Read: Interpreting Bjork

reviewed by dave heaton

Sometimes the key to a successful tribute album is to pick someone whose songs have universal enough qualities that they're easily translated to other musicians' aesthetics. The songs of someone as eccentric and unique as Bjork seem almost untouchable, but the tribute album Read: Interpreting Bjork proves otherwise. The 10 musicians here don't just prove that Bjork is coverable, they offer recordings that reflect both Bjork's vision and talent and their own.

Though at this time it's being released only in Japan (on the Folkcore imprint) Read is a creation of Hush Records), a Portland, Oregon-based label which offers its own unique version of pop music, one that's imaginative and pretty, with expertly written songs that bear touches of jazz and electronica. What's at first surprising about Read is how straightforward the covers manage to be, while retaining the musical personalities of the performers. Noise of Pretend's "It's Oh So Quiet," Corrina Repp's "You've Been Flirting Again" and Blanket Music's bossa nova take on "Hyper-Ballad" showcase those group's creative jazz-pop fusions while exuding the emotions and unconventionality of Bjork's originals (nevermind for a second that "It's Oh So Quiet" is the one track here that Bjork didn't originally write; she certainly made it her own). The Decemberists pretty much set their own musical aesthetic aside for their dead-on cover of "Human Behavior," yet merely hearing Colin Meloy (himself an eccentric pop singer with his own vision of the world) take on the song gives it an interesting haunted feeling. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sings "Joga" as a straightforward gentle folk song; it's interesting how somehow with a voice that's so completely opposite from Bjork's could capture the feelings of the song so perfectly.

The album gets even looser near the end, with Pete Miser's funky deconstruction of "Immature" and modern-day crooner Bobby Birdman's slightly open-ended yet 100% gorgeous version of the already heavenly love ballad "Unravel." In the end what rises above everything is the sheer love that these musicians have for Bjork's music. This is a tribute album where reverence leads not to rigid imitation but to a wonderful album with exactly the right balance between the original material and the personalities of the interpreters. Like all of the best interpretations, Read makes you love the original songs even more, while impressing you with the artistic abilities of the musicians doing the covering.

Issue 17, November 2003

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