Best tunes of 1993: #14 Björk “Human behaviour”

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Has there ever been a performance by an artist, be it of just the one song or their whole set, that completely changed your perception of them? For me, there have been several of these, some of them introductions and some reintroductions. Björk’s performance of “Human behaviour” was one such personal and almost spiritual experience and it wasn’t even a set that I witnessed live, that’s how transformative it was. I can only imagine how it must been for those who witnessed it in the flesh.

I distinctly remember hearing Björk on alternative radio and a big deal being made of her solo debut album, cheekily titled “Debut”. I knew from hearsay that she had been in a band called The Sugarcubes but I wouldn’t properly discover and explore that band’s catalogue and understand what it all meant until many years later. Many of my friends and passing acquaintances throughout the 90s were huge Björk fans, bordering on obsessive and on my side, I also liked pretty much everything I heard, which was quite a lot given how popular she was becoming in the alternative rock realm. I also remember being super impressed by her acting turn in the Lars Von Trier feel-bad movie, 2000’s “Dancer in the dark”. In fact, the music for that film was also so great that the soundtrack by Björk (“Selmasongs”) would be the first album of hers that I would own on CD. After that, though, her art explorations tended to diverge with my own musical tastes and we grew apart.

At some point in the late 2000s, I picked up the Julien Temple directed documentary on “Glastonbury” at the Ottawa Public Library and brought it home with me to watch. I’d always heard that the British music festival was the holy grail of music festivals and based on the lineups that have graced its stages over the years, I’d had held a reverence for it, always dreaming of attending. I was held rapt for the film’s two plus hours and found myself watching a ton of the bonus features, including uncut sets of the some of the iconic performances there over the years. One of these was Björk’s 1994 appearance there, specifically her performance of “Human behaviour”. It was the embodiment of childlike exuberance and animalistic intensity, exuding both sensuality and innocence. She was pixie-like in a slinky pink slip of a dress, racing and marching and flitting about the stage when she wasn’t blowing the speakers wide open with that unique and powerful voice of hers. It further fuelled my desire to go to Glastonbury (which I have yet to do) and forced on me a Björk rethink. I started collecting her early albums on CD and even managed to see her perform live in 2013.

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready, be ready to get confused
There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic”

Though it is not the only great tune on the aforementioned debut, “Human behaviour” now has its hold on me as my bar none favourite from album. It was track one and released as the first single and incidentally, was written a good five years before its release, back when Björk was still leading The Sugarcubes. It is synth, sample, and percussion heavy, rhythm as a melody, industrial dance, playing second fiddle to Björk, the voice, the magician and artist and shaman. A song that could grace and cross dancefloors of many ilks, high culture, pop culture, low culture, and everything in between.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


Vinyl love (revisited): Arcade Fire “The suburbs”

(I started my Vinyl Love posts pretty much right after the launch of this blog to share photos of my growing vinyl collection. Over time, the photos have improved and the explanations have grown. And looking back at a handful of the original posts in this series, I found myself wanting to re-do some of them so that the posts are more worthy of those great albums. So that’s what I’m going to start doing… not on the regular, mind you, because there’s plenty of other pieces in my collection still awaiting their due.)

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album Title: The suburbs
Year released: 2010
Details: black vinyl, double LP, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: The original Vinyl Love post for this Grammy-winning third album by Montreal’s now infamous indie rock collective was posted to this blog on May 19, 2017*, almost three and a half years ago. I wrote then that frontman Win Butler called it “neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” Two songs from the concept album then appeared on my Best tunes of 2010 list in the months that followed: first, the title track was slotted in at number twelve and the standout song below came a very close second to the number one for that year. For me, “The suburbs” is one of the best, if not the very best album of 2010** so it was a no brainer for me to pick up this original pressing early on in my collecting days. Ten years following its release, it still sounds as fresh as ever.

Standout track: “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)”

* Don’t go looking for it. As I post these “Revisited” pieces, I intend to rid the internet of the original evidence as soon as I can. This is, of course, the point of these posts.

** I guess we’ll see if I ever get around to counting down my favourite albums for 2010.

Live music galleries

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #5 Future Islands – Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Future Islands live at Ottawa Bluesfest 2015

Artist: Future Islands
When: Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
Where: Bell Stage at 7:00pm
Context: (You may have noticed there wasn’t a ‘great set’ yesterday. This is because Bluesfest normally takes one day off during the festival, a sort of breather in the middle of the marathon, and it is typically the Monday. But now we’re right back to it. Enjoy the homestretch.)

I had been lukewarm on Future Islands since first hearing them back in 2010, really only enjoying a handful of songs and being only slightly more than ambivalent about the rest, but that one live performance I caught back in 2015 changed all that.

Frontman, Samuel T. Herring was quite the showman, all dramatic gestures and dancing all over the stage, and that’s something I wasn’t at all expecting. We all know about that crazy voice of his. It really is one of a kind. Watching him, you have no idea where it comes from, switching from lounge lizard to Tom Waits growl in an instant, much to the appreciation of the crowd. Indeed, he seemed hell-bent determined to connect with each and every audience member while the band behind him, Gerrit Welmers (synths) and William Cashion (guitars) and touring drummer, Michael Lowry, were just there, almost emotionless and motionless, providing a dense, synth pop palette upon which for Herring to work.

I found myself dancing along only three songs in and I wasn’t the only one. It was all a big Future Islands love fest party. And then… the skies opened up. Yes. It was another one of those sets.

Umbrellas and parkas came out and those without were soaked, including those on the stage. Yet to my surprise, they soldiered on, despite the downpour, and when the song they were playing finished, they started right into their popular single, “Seasons (waiting on you)” while the stage crew ran about the stage covering up equipment. The dancing picked up even more (if that can be imagined) and just when I thought the plug was being pulled, the band convinced the festival organizers to allow them to play one more song, “Spirit”, performed with much of the same gusto, Herring slapping emphatically at his chest through his rain drenched shirt. And amazingly, he called all of us warriors, in kind of a pot and kettle sort of way. It was awesome, a set I’m sure to never forget.

The intensity of Samuel T Herring
Gerrit Welmers and Samuel T Herring of Future Islands
Michael Lowry on drums
William Cashion of Future Islands
Gerrit Welmers, Samuel T Herring, and Michael Lowry, just as the rain is beginning
Samuel T Herring singing in the rain… downpour

Back in the Tall Grass
A Dream of You and Me
Walking Through That Door
Long Flight
Before the Bridge
The Chase
A Song for Our Grandfathers
Light House
Seasons (Waiting on You)