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Björk - Selmasongs [Aka: Dancer in the Dark] (OST) CD (album) cover



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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars I won't hide the fact that I've actually never seen this soundtrack album existing, although I've no doubt it exist. Indeed the music of this Lars Von Trier movie is made by the top actress in the movie (a title she can dispute to a low-keyed Catherine Deneuve) where our Icelandic elf plays (or should I say over-plays) a death-row convicted woman. For those knowing Von Trier's cinema, they shouldn't panic, because he doesn't use the Dogma95 syndrome of no make-up, hand-held camera and other lighting twists that make these Nordic films relatively difficult sighting for the eyes (very unstable cameras and therefore pictures) and interest (let's face it these movies are relatively boring in the best of cases). Sooooo I will be reviewing the movie rather than the soundtrack album, but it shouldn't be too different, since I will concentrate on the music from now on.

In some of the sequences throughout the movie, the prison scenes are interrupted by some "dream sequences" (lack of better words) by the musical fantasies of the convicted murderer, headed for the gallows pole. These are actually sometimes breathtaking (like the group playing on a moving train, a bit like queen a few years before) and bring you back to the best stuff of Bjork's Debut album's better songs, which IMHO are still from far her best stuff

Despite Bjork's almost insufferable over-acting (I think this was her first and last movie role), Dancer In The Dark is good film, in spite of the difficult and controversial subject of the death penalty. As for Bjork's music included on the OSB, it's definitely worth your while to lend an attentive ear, in case you liked her Debut album.

Report this review (#347086)
Posted Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "It's only the last song if we let it be..."

After completing the exhausting Homogenic tour Bjork was back in Iceland when she was contacted by director Lars Von Trier. He had seen her in music videos and was floored by her charisma and ability to steal a scene, so he asked her to be in his next project. "Dancer in the Dark" was a dark musical about a young woman whose life goes very wrong when she is charged with murder, and Von Trier wanted Bjork to write the music and star in the lead role as Selma. She was interested in the musical challenge but wanted nothing to do with the acting. Von Trier persisted, and eventually Bjork fell in love with the character of Selma and agreed to take the role. While the film was loved by some and loathed by others, there is no debate that it was a big success. Bjork and Von Trier didn't get along at all, but put their personal differences aside and completed the unique project. Bjork was a natural in this role but found it emotionally overwhelming and vowed not to act again.

Selmasongs is thus not a proper studio album but a soundtrack, and a short one at that. The mere 32 minute running time is these days more an EP than a real album. Despite the odd circumstances which bore these seven tracks, there were some pretty decent songs here. She seemed to be transitioning here from the mixed bag of Homogenic to the more fully realized songwriting she would do on Vespertine. Selmasongs is somewhere between the two in quality, although the lyrical content this time revolves around the film and not the musings in Bjork's head. Von Trier even had Bjork redoing some of the work which he found not to his standards, so given the headstrong nature of both it was not surprising that there was tension. On the film's character of Selma....

"We both feel more comfortable in a song than we do in real life. There's a great deal of escape from reality in both Selma and me. I only feel safe and calm when I make music and sing. The only difference is that Selma is more naïve than me because she really thinks life can be one long musical, and I don't think that any longer." -Bjork

The album begins with a sweeping, majestic orchestral "Overture" that sounds so amazing you'd think she had been composing film scores for years. "Cvalda" finds Selma creating musical opportunities in her head based on the natural sounds around her, something real life Bjork see as a truth. In a factory setting, all of the noises and clatter of the machines slowly build until they form the song, which is then given grand form in a raucous song and dance number. "I've Seen It All" is a duet with Thom Yorke that finds Bjork in a defense mechanism, minimizing the things in life Selma is missing by cleverly finding the holes in exterior distractions. Life instead is what the individual makes it. "Scatterheart" is the best track as a pure song, removed from the film. It is a prelude to the fantastic leap coming on Vespertine, as Bjork begins with a lullaby and then croons repetitious lines to bass and her electronic snaps and crackles. "In the Musicals" is as the title suggests, a dance number similar to "It's Oh So Quiet." The album concludes with "New World" which was the number that played as the credits rolled. The song has a laid back trip-hop beat and a vocal melody that attempts to provide some relief for the devastating final scene the audience has just experienced. I remember how hard it was to force myself to watch the end of this film, and Bjork's music is highly competent at each juncture in helping the viewer feel and understand. It is pretty impressive stuff and moreso if you've seen the film.

For some reason I'll never understand, Bjork chose to leave the desperately emotional "Next to Last Song" off of the album. This is the unaccompanied vocal Selma clings to in order to remove herself from her body as she faces the fear of death. It's also the last words of a mother to her son. If you've seen the film you know how powerful the scene is. Dropping the track was a huge mistake on someone's part. An odd little album, mostly for fans, but still quite good.

Report this review (#354672)
Posted Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album consist of tracks from the soundtrack to the movie 'SelmaSongs', and as such, hold some nice things such as orchestra on most of the songs, conducted and arranged by Vincent Mendoza who made a terrific work. Bjork contributes her own ideas to the fine arrangements as well. On the other hand there are some great electronic noises, which sound more professional than on other Bjork works. All these different sounds combined perfectly together. From the songs point of view, the unpreventable shmaltzy love duet is represented by Bjork and Thom Yorke at the male role, at 'I've seen it all'. Nice song and duet nevertheless. Other song example would be the close track 'New World' that holds beautiful melody taken from the opening track, accompanied by orchestra and electronic beats and percussion. and '107 Steps' with some steps count that dramatically developed to the climax. A good album, in this site I rate it as a 3 stars album.
Report this review (#409759)
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The soundtrack to "Dancer in the Dark" certainly appealed to an art house movie lover as myself. The film is powerfully excruciatingly raw, Bjork putting on an enigmatic towering performance as the Czech immigrant Selma led into murder by extenuating circumstances. She meets her eventual fate at the gallows and sings a pain wracked song to remove herself from the trauma of dying, a raw, emotional performance that is unforgettable. I was looking forward to hearing this last song again on the album but was bitterly disappointed that the song is left off the soundtrack, a stupid decision really as it is one of the best things she has done.

The album is a curio that features performances by acting legends Catherine Deneuve, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and Siobhan Fallon. They do a competent job on their respective contributions, but it is Bjork who shines here. It is a short album at 33 minutes but features some of the best music in the film, though not enough.

Overture (3:38) is the opener of the film and is basically an orchestral soundtrack with sweeping strings and typical cinematic textures. Cvalda (featuring Catherine Deneuve) has a mechanised machinery sound like the printing press in the film where Selma works. Bjork's broken vocals soon crash over, and this is a wildly creative composition. Some fractured jazz tones come in and Deneuve's vocals are as exuberantly manic as the jazz industrial music; really as compelling as the movie. This number is best seen in the movie though with breathtaking choreography and amusing printing press percussion.

I've Seen It All, features Thom Yorke, the Radiohead vocalist and he is a familiar voice here. The train sound is very atmospheric and there is an ominous musical accompaniment. Yorke's vocals work well with Bjork's high register faltering voice. This is rather bleak and melancholy, with strange lyrics, "you haven't seen elephants, what about China have you seen the great wall" in which Yorke answers "all walls are great if the roof don't fall." Again the movie version is more powerful with surreal imagery on the train and Bjork's emotional expressions. A darkly beautiful song with majestic orchestration merged oddly with electronic percussion.

Scatterheart is the longest track (6:39), and features Bjork by herself musing on her fate; "what's going to happen next, I know the future, just to make it easier, you are going to have to find out for yourself." The musical toybox sounds are unsettling, and the off kilter sustained strings that balance her synthetic processed vocals. I find this to go on a bit too long for its own good, but it still is a mesmirising moment of the film and perhaps best experienced in the visual form. The lengthy music at the end sounds quite sad, as much as the film in that respect.

In The Musicals (4:41) is a vibrant rhythmic piece with Bjork sounding more urgent as her character lapses into the fantasy state of mind where she dreams of being in a musical. The sadness of the song is that Selma is so happy in this segment of the film, she is happiest in the character of the musical diva entertaining the masses. The soundtrack features some odd scratchy noises, that are appropriate as Bjork sings "I cannot help to adore you, you are in a musical, you are having a ball, you are always there to catch me." The section that sounds like tap dancing will bring back memories of the film scene in the court room, where Selma tap dances and cavorts with the jury, judge and prosecutor, and a role by Joel Gray, a surreal scene so well captured by Bjork in her best performance.

It leads to the sombre chill of 107 Steps featuring Siobhan Fallon who has the beautiful role of the sympathetic prison warden. The song has the unnerving counting by Fallon as Selma, almost blind walks methodically to the gallows. This is an unforgettable scene that has an unsettling edge, along with glorious uplifting orchestration. It is here where the next song should have been included but you will have to see the movie to experience its power; one of the most unsettling heart pounding scenes I have seen. The last song sobbingly sung with raw energy when Selma has the noose placed around her neck, her final cry out to the world, and her joy as she realises her son will have his sight, is omitted; an horrendous error. Perhaps the producers wanted it to be limited to the movie performance alone. This is the brave frankly raw scene that has most cinemagoers reaching for the Kleenex.

New World (4:21) is the song heard in the closing credits as people walked out of the cinema shellshocked from the harrowing film they had just witnessed. Admittedly this soundtrack does not have any impact on me after seeing the cult film. It is nowhere near as powerful, but it still features some of the film's great tracks. However, at only 33 minutes, surely the soundtrack could have been so much better, adding more of the traumatic moments and music from the excellent film.

Report this review (#792191)
Posted Sunday, July 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars I'm not a Björk fan. I did listen to her a bit in my late teens/early 20s in the mid/late 90s when "all" the "cool" "kids" did, but lost interest quite soon. My wife, however, is a fan and has many of her CDs so I thought I might reacquaint myself with them.

This is a soundtrack to the film Dancer in the Dark, directed by Lars Von Trier and starring Björk as the main character Selma (hence the album title). Songs are tied to film scenes but also work independently although you'll get more out of them if you've seen the whole thing. If you haven't, be forewarned that Von Trier knows which strings to pull to really exploit the viewer's emotions with his display of human wretchedness.

On to the music. Opening track "Overture" plays along with the opening credits and is more or less generic string music piece they use in movies. The first proper song "Cvalda" (named after the character played by Catherine Deneuve who also sings part of the song) starts with industrial rhythm and Björk's original vocals, then turns into a very typical Björk song with electronic trip hop rhythm and strings, and is in my opinion very musical-ish. "I've Seen It All" is my favourite Björk song. A melancholic near-ballad with Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) singing male vocal parts. I wonder why the actor Peter Stormare didn't sing them like ms. Deneuve did? I absolutely love the call-and-response lines "what about China, have you seen the Great Wall? - all walls are great if the roof doesn't fall". "Scatterheart" begins with musical box type melody. It might be the celesta that's Björk credited playing on the album? Dark song, nice sparse bassline and well-utilized scratchy vinyl sounds. "In the Musicals" is more uptempo but not very memorable I think. Nice use of tap-dancing type percussion sounds though. "107 Steps" has the voice of actress Siobhan Fallon counting the steps from prison cell to the gallows. Rhythm and strings and Björk's vocals are added on top of it. Very dramatic. "New World" is the closing credits song. It starts rather minimal trip hop and grows again dramatically towards the end.

I kind of like the album. It doesn't feature Björk's most irritating singing mannerism that were the main reason I didn't much like her in the first place. I like how she uses concrete sounds (factory rhythm of "Cvalda", counting in "107 Steps") with musical ones and how she utilizes modern beats and strings. After this, I didn't become a fan and probably never will, but I'll try and listen to more Björk when the time is right. Three stars.

Report this review (#2502708)
Posted Saturday, February 6, 2021 | Review Permalink

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