Selmasongs is not the follow-up to Björk’s Homogenic. It is the spine of Lars von Trier’s brilliant film, Dancer in the Dark. In the film, Björk plays Selma, a Czechoslovakian immigrant who is slowly losing her sight. Her character has a passionate relationship with musicals and Selmasongs is a collection of her fantastical dreamscapes that are featured throughout the film.The album, like the film, opens with an overture written and produced solely by Björk, and orchestrated and conducted by Vincent Mendoza. The piece is a solemn prelude to the musical numbers that follow. “Cvalda,” a song for Selma’s best friend (played by Catherine Deneuve, who sings on the track), takes place in the steel press where the two women work. The structure of the song is brilliantly based on the real-time sounds of the factory. Similarly, “I’ve Seen It All” is laced with the rhythmic reverberation of the train tracks Selma walks upon in the film’s accompanying scene. The song’s sadness is clear as Björk declares: “I’ve seen what I chose and I’ve seen what I need/And that is enough, to want more would be greed.” Björk’s phrasing and emphasis turns an otherwise banal question into total profundity: “What about China? Have you seen the Great Wall?” Freed from the constrictions of the screenplay, the lyrics on the Selmasongs version of “Scatterheart” sound more like Björk than Selma (or von Trier, who had a hand in writing all of the songs): “All the love above/I send into you/Comfort and protection/I’ll watch over you.” In the film, the scene is a struggle where Selma forgives herself for her actions. Here, “Scatterheart” would fit nicely nestled between tracks on Homogenic.
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