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3.4 out of 5 stars
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Showing 1-3 of 3 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on 25 July 2011
Even if you are a fan of Björk's, you are not guaranteed to fall in love with Drawing Restraint 9 any more than you are guaranteed to love Jonny Greenwood's score for Bodysong, even if you love Radiohead. Decidedly Björk's most avant-garde work, it's hard to classify Drawing Restraint 9 with her other albums, seeing how it's essentially the soundtrack for Matthew Barney's avant-garde film. Not being familiar with his work myself, I will judge the album solely on my interpretation of it. I am a big fan of Björk's, but this cd has had a hard time staying off my shelf.

Drawing Restraint 9 is maverick, raw and tough to take in. A distinct theme is the east; decidely Japan, whales, pearls, sirens and the ocean. Harpsichords and other instruments so untypically heard in Björk's music rather uncomfortably take center stage. What sets DR9 most apart from Björk's work, though, is that her voice can be heard on a total of three of the album's eleven tracks. The singing numbers are actually four, the opener "Gratitude" being sung by Will Oldham.

"Bath" is a haunting, simple track, only featuring occasional piano and Björk's voice. She doesn't belt out the notes, she almost whispers them, with such intimacy that chills run down my spine. "Storm" is understandably the track that most seem taken with. I give them right; a roaring chorus of Björk's heavily manipulated voice to resemble oceanic waves and siren-like wailing.

And that's when the album throws us into "Holographic Entrypoint". After the mirage of dark and scary music, we are now treated to a man singing Japanese Noh for ten solid minutes, a man in the background chanting and banging on a wooden percussion instrument. Nothing else. Sitting through this track with no visual cues is a most peculiar experience, but strangely relaxing. In the context of the film, apparently Björk and Barney cut off their legs and turn into whales during this sequence. Why not?

Drawing Restraint 9 is not an album I can easily recommend. I rarely ever pick it up; you need to be in a special mood for it. The melodies are by no means catchy in any sense, and the instrumentation is raw and difficult. Don't expect to love it, but if you do give it a try, it's a listen you are unlikely to ever truly forget.
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on 18 May 2006
It ought to be said that Matthew Barney's reputation as a filmmaker is very akin to Björk's status as an international pop star, which, in many ways, turns them into one of the artiest, most synergistic couples in present popular culture. Barney first came to prominence in the art world with his performance art in the late 1980s, but it was "The Cremaster Cycle", a five-film saga produced out of sequence over nine years concerning Masonic mythology that earned Barney his current standing as one of America's most credible contemporary artists. His latest opus, "Drawing Restraint 9" (the ninth piece in a series of multimedia artworks that spans back to work from twenty years ago), examines (or is said to) the relationship between human resistance and creativity, as told on a Japanese whaling vessel with Barney and Björk playing the ship's Western guests. Though said to be less confusing than "The Cremaster Cycle", the film is said to still defy conventional critical opinion in sheer audacity, much like Björk's accompanying soundtrack ...

Björk's music for the film addresses its fundamental themes head on, with Björk immersing herself in Japanese culture and instrumentation whilst still providing moments of idiosyncratic expression. Most notable are the songs involving the sho, an ornately complicated Japanese woodwind whose seeming fragility is matched only by its eerie beauty. Also thrown in for good measure are a Japanese children's choir, composer Akira Rabelais on a sparse piano and, most perversely, Noh chanting, all incorporated to varying effect. Björk utilises all of these elements (and more besides) to compose her most sophisticated musical themes and motifs to date, more so than her last soundtrack effort "SelmaSongs", as well as providing a soundtrack of many different colours and moods. The "Restraint" certainly shows on the menacingly meditative likes of "Pearl" and "Bath", coming to a frightening head on "Storm" (Björk's collaboration with longtime friend Leila), with moments of shine courtesy of the buoyant "Ambergris March" and the precious "Cetacea". It is safe to say the contemporary classical composers of the world will be at once affronted and mesmerised by the work on offer here.

That being said, there is a lot of influence from Björk's past work included here, not least in the tried-and-tested collaborators she seems to hold in high regard. Though the new collaborators duly shine through (Will Oldham and the aforementioned Akira Rabelais and Leila in particular), old hands Mark Bell, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Tagaq and Zeena Parkins are sure to put in their oars also, and the results often echo past works on her albums ("Gratitude", though trilled hauntingly by Oldham, and "Cetacea" could have been lifted wholesale from "Vespertine"). That being said, the biggest collaborator on the album is Barney, whose singular artistic vision allows Björk's music to express the kind of emotion hitherto unheard in her pantheon. The "Hunter/Shimenawa" sequence in the album, with its violent brass arrangements apparently at odds with the similarly-arranged sho, startles certainly, but most exhilarating, however, is "Storm", one of three tracks in which Björk actually sings in her trademark gibberish, which quite possibly provides the recording of her vocal career.

Of course, there are problems with "Restraint", but they all account for whether the listener is prepared to engage with the themes that Barney and Björk are presenting them with. If you can invest in the album as abstract expression or as a film score of intense eccentricity, there is much to be impressed with. Björk fans, in actual fact, are most likely to be the most hard done by the album, thanks to the singer's lack of vocal input and her stepping further away from the pop paramount of the "Post" years. And whilst some pitfalls are only too huge to be avoided (if "Storm" is vocally her greatest moment, "Holographic Entrypoint" is most certainly overall her gravest mistake), one cannot deny that Björk and Barney may have come up with one of the finest curate's eggs of the new century with "Drawing Restraint 9". If one were to take it with a pinch of salt, there is no doubt you will be surprised with what's on offer.
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on 1 August 2005
Drawing Restraint 9 is something of a hit-and-miss record. But while certain tracks fall flat, I don't agree with people who call this album "pretentious" or a "pastiche". For one, just because an artist tries something different, does not mean the fruit of that labour is pretentious. Also, this is far from being a pastiche of Japanese sounds and culture. There are no pan pipes here, no cliched sounds you'd associate with the Far East. Instead we have arrangements for celeste, harp, and the ancient Japanese instrument, the sho.
I'll start with the good tracks. At first it may seem there are few to speak of, but upon repeated listens the subtle sounds begin to burrow their way into your memory. Opening track, Gratitude, is joyous and playful, the children's choir at the end really giving this a lift. Ambergis March is a vibrant instrumental, while Bath is quiet, relaxing, exuding warmth and the feel of water. By far the best track is Storm, quite unlike anything I've ever heard. If it wasn't for this track, I'd give the album a much lower rating.
Pearl is something of a non-event, and sounds as if it belonged on Medulla. Personally I'm bored of this Taquaq woman and her throat-singing; while it was a strange, almost exciting sound at first, it's now evident that all this woman can do is breathe very quickly. Memo to Bjork: don't work with her anymore! Track 9, with the two Japanese men chanting, is also over-long and I don't really see the point. But at least this is followed by a few nice closing songs, and the album generally leaves a warmth behind once you listen to it three or four times. Not her best, but still a few great tracks make this worth buying.
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