Tracking Surround: Björk DualDiscs

Surrounded Elektra/Rhino
Music •••½ DualDisc Mixes •••• Extras ••••½
Imagine reviewing Snakes on a Plane without discussing ... the snakes. Well, let's all blow a raspberry at Rolling Stone for reviewing Björk's Surrounded without discussing ... the surround sound!

The thing is, if Björk's going to have Paul "P-Dub" Walton do 5.1-channel treatments of her studio albums and sound­tracks for seven DualDiscs - all packed in a "brick" with the sobriquet Surrounded - it's only fair for us to focus on the mixes, not the music. But first, a word about that music. As I've said before in this magazine, Björk's electro/orchestral trance dance is the epitome of an acquired taste, so feel free to take my overall rating of 3½ bullets and adjust it up or down, depending on your own taste. In my opinion, Björk can be the very knife of cutting-edge (1995's Post, 2004's Medúlla). She can also be insufferable for her art (2001's Vespertine). But she's never less than a good listen.

Which brings us to Walton's mixes, which are never less than excellent. Cue up 1993's Debut, and you might think, "What's the big deal?" The five main channels do seem to be duplicates, each spilling over with Björk and her musicians. But the truly surrounding mix takes that always girlish, often fragile voice and gives it authority. At the same time, the icy electronics warm up in the newly expansive atmosphere. Then come the details: the buzz-to-bell effect from left rear to right front in "Venus as a Boy," the percolating "ppy"s in "Violently Happy."

Move through the fare of Surrounded, and you'll notice that, as Björk gets more adventurous, so does Walton. Sink into the techno­dungeon of "Army of Me." Hear the vocals of "Headphones" from all corners and planes - without headphones! Meet one of Björk's alter egos in the center channel on "Scatterheart." And be pulled into the joyous world of "Who Is It" by successive distant yells from the right rear, the left rear, and the left and right fronts.

One of these mixes, for Vespertine, previously appeared on a DVD-Audio disc. But the DVD-Video sonics on all of these DualDiscs are damn near indistinguishable from the sound of that high-rez release. And whereas the DVD-A had no extras, Surrounded offers 26 videos - all in 5.1 (some with alternate mixes) and each an audacious representation of this highly visual artist. Two of the best are for the Vespertine bonus tracks "It's in Our Hands" and "Nature Is Ancient," trumping everything else on that album. Sure, the menus are surprisingly static, and we could've used the missing lyrics for Debut and 2000's Selmasongs. But I repeat: You get twenty-six videos, and the half-hour making-of doc on Spike Jonze's video for "Triumph of a Heart" is a hilariously deadpan film in itself.

If you're like me, hearing the entire Björkworks in a box will give you a new appreciation for the swan's song. And despite a heartless marketplace and clueless magazines, this is another brick for the army of us who love nothing more than to be surrounded.

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