Remixes are a tricky phenomenon. Regularly labelled as the exclusive domain of hardcore fans and DJs, only very rarely does a remix surpass the success of its inspiration – Calvin Harris’ recent reworking of Florence + The Machine’s ‘Spectrum’ being an obvious example.
Detractors are quick to denounce many remixes as poor re-hashings of tracks which required no tampering with whatsoever. Björk has never had any such hang-ups. As a matter of fact, the enigmatic Icelandic songstress has a knack for selecting only those producers who are capable of reworking her offerings into something as equally fascinating as the original. Bastards sees the 45-year-old bring together the best remixes from her 2011 Biophilia project onto one collection.
Lead single from Biophilia, ‘Crystalline’ is given a total makeover as the album’s opener. Omar Souleyman masterfully blends an electronic buzz with a quintessentially Arabian rhythm and verses in Arabic, creating something very special indeed – a musical hybrid of the cold north and the warm Middle East.
‘Virus’, one of the strongest tracks from the original album, compares love to viral cells mutating. The ‘Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol Remix’ retains the original track’s subtle tinkling at the start, as well as the pounding heartbeat underpinning the rhythm. However, the chorus hits home harder with a much more aggressive bass line, though this doesn’t undermine the romantic sentiment of the song – it remains beautiful.
Thankfully, the ‘Death Grips Remix’ of ‘Sacrifice’ does not dispose of its neo-oriental tubular chime effect. The addition of a more in-your-face backbeat complements the structure of the song surprisingly well. Matthew Herbert then treats us to a half-minute ‘Pins And Needles Mix’ reprise of the track, with a growing swell of noise which ends abruptly.
One of our favourite tracks, ‘Mutual Core’, is reinterpreted twice on the album. Unfortunately though, the ‘These New Puritans Remix Featuring Solomon Is. Song’ is a bizarre combination of female African chant and a slightly schmalzy piano-driven backdrop. It doesn’t work, unlike ’Matthew Herbert’s Tectonic Plates Mix’. We are grateful that this version does not deprive us of the original’s volcanic rumble – the majesty of the track is such that too much ‘messing’ with its core features is enough to send us into a Björk-at-the-airport style fury.
Omar Soulyeman returns to put his unique spin on ‘Thunderbolt’, this time making traditional North African drums more prominent. Again, it has a distinct flavour of an Arabian marketplace and totally transforms the number, barely resembling the original. The track is also redesigned on the ‘Death Grips Remix’, which results in a far more erratic, electronic vibe. It’s manic, with an asymmetric beat that defies the norms of conventional composition, mismatching the vocals. Somehow, though, it’s hard not to love it.
‘Hollow’, a slow burner from Biophilia but an absolutely genius ode to genetics, is given a much heavier, more consistent and regular beat on the ’16-Bit Remix’. Throw in some extravagant cymbal work and you almost have an R&B version.
One of the more impenetrable moments on Biophilia - there is always one such instance on a Björk album – came via ‘Dark Matter’. The ‘Alva Noto Remodel’ may fool you into believing that Bastards has made it no more accessible, with two minutes of ethereal drone and the odd burst of syncopated Björk. However, when the thudding triple beat kicks in, it truly elevates the track to new heights and is then adorned with a gradual swell of supplementary sounds and noises.
Biophilia’s opening track, ‘Moon’, is made somewhat banal by ‘The Slips Remix’, which adds nothing to the gorgeously gentle original but a slightly unbecoming beat. However, listen to this as someone totally uninitiated in the original version and you will undoubtedly find it appealing. ‘Solstice’, another of the original album’s more stripped-back numbers, is given a harsh industrial pulse on the ‘Current Value Remix’. However, on the whole, this does manage to hang together effectively.
Finally, Matthew Herbert makes another appearance, this time on the second remix of ‘Crystalline’. This version begins with the sound of crunchy snow underfoot, leading eventually to an impressive, clunky beat, accompanied towards the end by the sound of someone shaking a handful of shells. Only Björk.
What sets Björk apart from her peers is a variety of factors. Firstly, she is instinctively able to transform an album into a full-blown project. Never has this more evident than in the case of Biophilia, comprising not just a physical album but a series of apps, live performances, musical workshops and remixes. Add to that her innate ability to select collaborators with whom she knows she can produce remixes with to not only do justice to the originals but, in many cases, add totally new dimensions to them. This all helps you to see why, at 47, Björk remains at the top of her game.
Go Get It: ‘Virus (Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol Remix)’
Forget It: ‘Mutual Core (These New Puritans Remix Featuring Solomon Is. Song)’