Snap Sounds: Björk and Dirty Projectors

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BJÖRK AND DIRTY PROJECTORS
Mount Wittenberg Orca

Mount Wittenberg Orca is neither the first nor last time Björk sings about oceans, mothers, and plant life (re: “Oceania”). But now, she has the genius of the Dirty Projectors ­– in particular, producer and Dirty frontman David Longstreth – looking at Mother Nature, too.

On Orca – and I don’t mean Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors’ 2009 indie instant-classic  – the Icelandic songstress and Longstreth have teamed up to produce an album for charity. This is a 20-minute, seven track release – short, but oh how sweet ­– whose proceeds all go to the National Geographic Society. It's the first time we’ve been able to hear studio recordings of these tracks since Dirty/Björk played a benefit concert last year at Housing Works in New York.

Perhaps the titular mountain is our very own, in Marin. Either that or, judging by the album art, it’s some Middle Earthian alternate world. The eponymous orca – a killer whale – holds especially pertinent ground for Björk since, back in the Aughts, she developed some kind of maritime obsession on Medulla and the Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack. It’s also interesting to note that, back in 2005, Björk’s hubby Matthew Barney gave ambergris, aka whale shit ­– one of his many fetishized materials – a starring role in Drawing Restraint 9. If you want to connect the dots even more, Barney was born in San Francisco.

Reminisicent of Medulla, Orca is like an epic chamber piece: harmony-heavy, flippantly sliding up and down scales, often ending up in a round of disparate melodies. Both Björk and the Dirty Projectors foreground imaginative vocal arrangements, and thus, the vocals here are strong and full of nuance.

The opening track, aptly titled “Ocean,” features some frightening feedback and disquieting vocals that wouldn’t be out of place in Krzysztof Penderecki’s scariest nightmares. Later, the bouncy “Sharing Orb” showcases the Dirty girls’ piquant “eh eh eh”s to match Björk’s Yoko-like, banshee-wailing “waaaaw.” “How do you say ‘love’?” she asks. Well, I know how I say it, Björk, and it’s definitely not the same way you do (“laaaaaave”). But as on the rest of her canon, her Neanderthalic cadence is totally successful in the context of the album’s conceit: A return to nature and the elements, a vision of an a priori universe of sound, to create modern, tightly woven aural textures.

“No Embrace” sounds like typical Dirty Projectors fare: spooky, yet wistful. Longstreth and his leading ladies – Angel Deradoorian, Hayley Dekle, and Amber Coffman – never clash with Björk’s typically dominant voice. The two work well in concert (both in the literal and figurative sense if you’ve seen the performances) yet you can still tell who’s singing and when.

The best song is “All We Are,” the final track and also the Björkiest. It almost sounds like a b-side from Medulla or the separated Siamese twin of “Sonnets/Unrealities XI.” The choir-like incantations, offering plenty in the way of falsetto, wax ethereal beneath Longstreth’s romantic lyricism. But like the best of Bjork’s Icelandic-to-English words, beauty is met by danger, and emotions are met with undermining qualifications (“I looked out for you/But looking never meant less”).

Mount Wittenberg is a pleasant, lovely climb, both brisk and a breath of fresh air. It’s enough to satisfy fans of either Bjork or Dirty Projectors, and you’ll most likely freak out if you’re a follower of both like myself. Yet at 20 minutes, it still leaves you wanting more. You can purchase the mp3s at mountwittenbergorca.com for pretty cheap, or you can stream the album on YouTube.

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