Björk is one of my favourite artists and her masterpiece, Medülla, is my favourite of her albums. However, like Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, it’s also a bit of a creative cul-de-sac. If any painter begins splashing paint on their canvas, it is impossible for them not to be compared to Pollock. And as soon as any musician begins building music on layers of voices, there can be no avoiding Medülla comparisons.
Christian Albrechtsen is a Danish sculptor, poet, musician and singer. I Wish All My Songs Were About The Sea can be heard as an intimate self-portrait. Albrechtsen supplies all the voices and plays all the extra instruments which range from accordion and melodika through to digital programming. Which also indicates that this is not an album built entirely on the human voice, but instrumentation really is an accompaniment here – the main event is definitely the layered voices – sampled, snippets, looped, processed and then sung over. And Albrechtsen does it with beauty and skill. The best example, for mine, is ‘Set Foot In The Corridors’ which contrasts wailing falsetto snippets with doo-wop style bass vocals under a lead vocal which is the most melodically direct of the album’s tracks. The rattling can and stuttering electronic kick pulses give it a rhythmic propulsion as well. What instrumentation is present on the album is very reminiscent of another Björk album – Homogenic. On tracks like ‘Get On Board’ and ‘I Wish All My Songs Were About The Sea’, in particular, the bit-crushed electronics and burring bass synth could have been plucked from Andy Bell outtakes from the late 90s.
Lyrically, Albrechtsen coats his poetry in numerous nautical metaphors, from the title track which uses the act of first entering cold water as an analogy for “erotic sensation”. Track titles reinforce the sea – ‘Ocean Solo’, ‘Get On Board’, ‘Your Ship Is The Prettiest’. His lyrics display a poetry that is quite captivating – “I am waving a blanket/For bugs to hide under/A surface for them to dance on/An ocean floor/For me to sail on”, from ‘Cripple’. Set, as they are, in a midst of tangle voiced interplay, the lyrics take on a life of their own, lifting them above even the quality they have on the written page.
I Wish All My Songs Were About The Sea is a beautiful, captivating album. But I am torn by the fact that the focus of inspiration is so narrow and that it so closely resembles the work from just a couple of Björk albums. As I listen, every now and then I cringe at just how close. As such, this will remain under her shadow. But I get the feeling that, for the moment, Albrechtsen is happy to be there. The skill with which he creates these songs, however, indicates that, as he matures and finds his own voice, he could be an artist to watch.