This statement may sound strange considering this is a soundtrack for a film involving a sizable dose of Japanese history. But a closer look at this often stunning record reveals traces of several of Bjork's early sonic explorations and passions. She has stated on many occasions that she produced music for Icelandic film projects as a young adult. These soundtracks, according to her, were often comprised of percussive and vocal experimentations. This could easily describe a broad facet of the music of "Drawing Restraint 9".
Her voice is only audible in three of the disc's eleven tracks; this soundtrack is Bjork at her pure "researcher" best. She does an admirable job of weaving traditional Japanese and European instruments with subtle (and occasionally hardcore) electronic programming. With the exception of one track, "Holographic entrypoint", the music is not overtly "Japanese" sounding, but Bjork's research of traditional Japanese compositions is quietly integrated into the work as a whole.
This soundtrack includes delicate pieces for single instruments such as the sho, harp, celeste, and harpsichord ("Pearl", "Ambergris march", "Shimenawa", "Cetacea", "Antarctic return"), all of which have been arranged and performed beautifully. There are also two tracks ("Hunter vessel", "Vessel shimenawa") with stark orchestral arrangements for brass (trumpet, trombone) and oboe, which would have made Stanley Kubrick proud to put in one of his films.
Of these more instrumental pieces, "Pearl", which also features "Medulla"-collaborator, Tagaq, stands out as the most effortlessly gorgeous and intricate composition. It is incredible to see how many facets of Tagaq's throat-singing Bjork has been able to capture in her recent recordings. Though "Medulla"'s Tagaq showpiece, "Ancestors", has some truly heartwrenching passages (particularly the final minute of the track), the arrangement was not nearly as tight, consistent, and well-executed as it is here on "Pearl".
The most challenging piece for most listeners will undoubtedly be "Holographic entrypoint", described on Bjork's website as having been "sung in the intonation patterns and low, growling vocal techniques of traditional Japanese court entertainment." It is not a piece that I will listen to frequently, but it is interesting. More importantly, I think this track -- more than any of the others -- fits best within the context of the film rather than as a casual cd track.
The work throughout is superb. There are two tracks that particularly stand out, both of which feature Bjork's unparalleled voice: "Bath" and "Storm". Bjork's vocal has rarely sounded this good. These two tracks (each very different from the other) are a reminder that her voice -- especially when paired with minimal production that allows her voice it's proper prominence -- is a truly amazing instrument with highly flexible and expressive timbres.
"Bath" takes Bjork's vocal layering work on "Medulla" to another level altogether. Her voice on this track is like an opiate that surrounds and seduces the listener with every breath. Strangely enough, there seem to be traces of Middle Eastern scale progressions throughout the track. This piece is breathtaking; possibly Bjork's most exquisite all-vocal arrangement to date.
"Storm", on the other hand, hits you like a truck. The programming by Leila and arranging by Bjork are absolutely intense and physical. We don't see this Bjork often enough. This is the Bjork we have seen glimpses of with tracks like "Where is the Line", "Pluto", and "Army of Me", but her vocal is used to much greater effect here on "Storm". From the second her first line is sung, one instantly notices that this a Bjork we haven't heard much of. Her voice is raw, volatile, agitated, and sent chills down my spine. Perhaps the period of Bjork's career in which her vocals most closely resemble these is her work in the 1980s with Kukl. The last time I recall Bjork collaborating with Leila is on the live version of "Enjoy", which she did on her Post tour. This also brought us a more menacing Bjork, though not to the extent of which we see here on Storm. One can only hope that these two very gifted artists work on more projects together in the near future.
Other highlights include the intricate, textured percussion on "Ambergris march", the sho arrangements written by Bjork and performed by Mayumi Miyata, and the layered instrumentation of celeste, harp, digital programming, and keyboard, on "Gratitude" (though Will Oldham's vocal doesn't work quite as well).
Some Bjork fans are growing weary of her recent experimentations; some want the "Homogenic" or even "Post" Bjork back. I suppose one could say that there are many fans of 90s Bjork. As many people know, however, Bjork's recording career began in 1977. There probably isn't a single person who thinks every single Bjork project or song is great, but there are those who have enjoyed how far she has reached and how much she has developed and explored as an artist. When looking at Bjork's nearly 30-year musical career as a whole, one will find that this soundtrack is an admirable, stunning, and beautifully executed project that shows the artist reaching new heights as a composer, vocalist, and producer. As long as she's alive, I'm sure that Bjork will continue to produce compelling, beautiful, challenging music that will undoubtedly veer more toward a pop sensibility from time to time when it feels right to her.