Björk: Selmasongs

Dancer In The Dark, Danish director Lars Von Trier's latest film, has already proved divisive: Some are turned off by what they perceive to be manipulative melodrama or sick sadism, while others praise its innocence and audacity. But most can agree upon Björk's status as a wonder to behold. Of course, fans of the Icelandic singer have known that for years, ever since she fronted The Sugarcubes before embarking on an eclectic and visionary solo career. Her performance in Dancer In The Dark will likely come as a revelation to newcomers wondering why the woman wails so much, but for everyone else, she's just, well, Björk. But that doesn't make her acting debut any less powerful, especially since so much of it is tied to a new set of songs written specifically for the subversive musical. Selmasongs derives its title from the name of Björk's character, and, like any good soundtrack, its songs relate directly to the action on the screen. In other words, it would be wise to see the film before digesting the music, especially because the music will grow in power when married to Dancer's unforgettable images. The most notable feature of Selmasongs is how much it sounds like her most recent musical adventures, regardless of the album's intended cinematic context. Written by Björk with help from regular collaborator Mark Bell and Von Trier, the songs take off from rhythmic snippets—train tracks, assembly lines—stolen from real life and shaped into music. Machine presses become sweeping electro-jazz in "Cvalda," while "In The Musicals" takes off from some inspired desk-tapping. For good reason (made clear by the movie), the film's final song is not included here, though Dancer In The Dark's most moving song, "I've Seen It All," is performed with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, a more than fine replacement for actor (not singer) Peter Stormare. Bargain hunters should proceed with caution, however—the half-hour EP, with six songs plus overture, is being sold at full-album price—but once the power of the film intervenes, it's clear that Selmasongs is no cash-in or souvenir. Instead, it's steeped in the same earnest, soaring emotion as Björk's on-screen performance, minus some of Von Trier's more dubious machinations. That the disc distills the film down to many of the traits Von Trier tried to escape is a perverse subversion all its own.

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