Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2 (2013)

“So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you”

Volume 2 of Ben Forster’s Acoustic Covers followed a year after the first, responding to its success and Forster’s rising profile. And in tribute to his fanbase, he crowdsourced suggestions for what songs might appear on this record, cherry-picking his selection from the most popular. And to mix things up even further, relatively speaking, he also added a pianist (Robert Eckland) in with the solo guitar (Luke Higgins) for these stripped-back arrangements.

The most successful track on this album is probably the most unexpected one – Björk‘s ‘Hyperballad’. I’m a Björk superfan and this is one of my most favourite of her songs and somehow, this is as good a cover as I’ve heard of it, capturing Forster’s ethos perfectly with an uncomplicated reading of the song which takes away from its strangeness but highlights its emotion too. An inspired choice and a compelling performance. Continue reading “Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2 (2013)”

Music Review: Björk, Royal Albert Hall

“Moments of clarity are so rare

I better document this”

It takes something special to get me to a gig rather than a play these days, but Björk is that something special as I racked up my 8th time seeing her live in nearly 20 years of concert-going (here’s reviews of number #6 and #7. This acoustic concert was billed as a one-off (though due to the speed with which it sold out, a second date at Hammersmith Apollo was added) and marked the first time that the Icelandic singer has taken the stage at this austerely beautiful venue.

The show coincided with the launch of the Björk Digital exhibition at Somerset House, featuring her groundbreaking forays into virtual reality videos but in contrast with the high tech there, this concert stripped things back to just strings. And for the heart-sore, emotionally bruising material of most recent album Vulnicura, this was a marriage made in heaven, the arrangements making you appreciate just how complex a composer she has matured into.

Consequently this isn’t the kind of music that will win over new fans, but Björk has never been the kind of artist to cater to any form of commercial impulse, pursuing instead the sort of artistic vision that is hardly seen in the world these days. And from the extraordinary costumes to her inimitable way with a lyric – “Family was always our sacred mutual mission which you abandoned”, “Every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time lapse” – she is aurely one of the most charismatic performers out there.

The second act sees her come as close to crowdpleasing as she does, incorporating some of the back catalogue hits like an ecstatic ‘Jóga’ and the glorious multi-layered ‘Pagan Poetry’, and the closing ‘Pluto’ was a genius way to end the set, repurposing its industrial tumult to fascinating effect. On this evidence and this ever-inventive vein of creativity, I can see myself coming back to watch Björk for another 20 years and more.
Setlist

Stonemilker
Lionsong
History of touches
Black Lake
Family
Notget
Aurora
I’ve Seen It All
Jóga
Pagan Poetry
Quicksand
Mouth Mantra
Anchor Song
Pluto

Music Review: Björk, Castlefield Arena

“At last the view is fierce
All that matters is”

It is four years since Björk launched her Biophilia installation with a residency at Campfield Market Hall and she now returns to the Manchester International Festival with the first European show of her Vulnicura tour. An open air gig in the north-west is a risky enterprise even in the midst of a July heatwave and sadly my nephew’s birthday party earlier in the afternoon had to draw the sting of the forecast rain so that we could get a blessedly dry and sunny evening in the Castlefield Arena.

And what an evening. Blending the intimacy and innovative song structures of her latest album Vulnicura, charting her break-up with Matthew Barney, with an exhilarating rummage through the back catalogue (look and learn, Kanye West), the seemingly indefatigable Björk remains as fresh and vital a live presence as she ever has – the uniqueness of her onstage emittances and indeed movement, the intense musicality that comes from her collaborators, the stunning clarity of that voice. Continue reading “Music Review: Björk, Castlefield Arena”

DVD Review: Dancer in the Dark

“I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the dark
I’ve seen the brightness in one little spark”

Is there quite so uncompromising a director as Lars von Trier? Watching his films can sometimes feel punishing in its intensity, either exhilarating or exasperating depending on how you connect with the Dogme 95 manifesto that he co-founded. Strictly speaking, Dancer in the Dark doesn’t adhere closely to stipulated austerity of those rules but it is most definitely in the ballpark and as with so much of his work, it becomes near-unwatchable at the climax as it completely breaks your heart in the most brutal of ways.

With a tempestuous relationship with von Trier that has been well documented, Björk takes on the lead role of Selma, a Czech immigrant scraping by in a factory in Washington state, saving the pennies she earns for an operation for her son which will prevent a hereditary degenerative condition from robbing him of his sight. She is suffering in silence though, unable to tell people how blind she is becoming for fear of being sacked, and when a nefarious neighbour steals her money, he sets in chain a tragic sequence of events. Continue reading “DVD Review: Dancer in the Dark”

Music Review: Björk – Biophilia – Campfield Market Hall

“Ekkert tekur. Ég tekur því. Náttúra!”

Ever the innovator, Björk’s latest project Biophilia has seen her take up a short residency at Campfield Market Hall as part of the Manchester International Festival to play a set of live shows which will be accompanied by educational workshops, documentaries, unprecedented internet presence, newly invented musical instruments and an album release which will feature the world’s first app-album. Biophilia is an attempt to explore the relationship between music, nature and new technology on a grand scale, necessitating something more than just a 10-track cd, and hence requiring a truly unique, genre-confounding revelatory experience.

When I saw Take That a couple of weeks ago, I remarked to my friend as we watched a group of women collapse in rapture as they started to play Pray that gigs are so much better when you have that personal connection to the music. I didn’t have that with Take That despite being lucky enough to be given a ticket, but I do have that with Björk, one of the artists who has truly soundtracked my life, and sure enough I had my moment of rapture as she launched into ‘Hyperballad’ at the end – I may even have shed a joyous tear or two. Continue reading “Music Review: Björk – Biophilia – Campfield Market Hall”