Released digitally with little fanfare, Mount Wittenberg Orca sounds like the perky, efficacious soundtrack to a particularly boring ecological video game. In reality, the EP is just about as vestigial. It was born out of a Stereogum-prodded collaboration between Icelandic chanteuse Björk and New York indie rockers Dirty Projectors, a benefit concert to be performed at a Manhattan bookstore. Rather than repurpose their own greatest hits, such as they respectively are, they whipped up a 20-minute cantata about a family of whales and, it seems, their quest to find happiness, harmony, and breathable water.
As the liner notes on the album’s website indicate, Björk once again portrays a fiercely protective matriarch, this time in a much more supportive environment than was offered to her by Danish sadist Lars von Trier. This time, she doesn’t get cacked during the “Next to Last Song.” That said, the septet of ditties here suggest there’s precious little time to waste, otherwise Bj-Örca and her school of closely microphone’d calves will end up washed ashore, biologically abused, elementally polluted. In fact, it might already be too late. One of the songs is pointedly called “When the World Comes to an End.”
The proceeds earned by the EP are earmarked for creating international marine-protected areas through the National Geographic Society. However noble the cause, it also makes the whole enterprise sound a little bit fatalistic, as though there’s already little hope for the majority of the Earth’s water surfaces, and the best that we can do is cordon off a few small areas. Within the narrow confines of the EP, that uneasy balance between hopelessness and guarded optimism is given voice through the blend of Dirty Projectors’s bouncing vocal harmonies (the gratingly forthright “eh-eh-eh-eh” verses in “On and Ever Onward”) and Björk’s reliably magenta undertones (and yes, I do mean “magenta” in the Blanche Devereaux sense).
The Whale Album’s collaboration reaches a high point with “Sharing Orb,” a moody dirge about our water resources “we all call our mother,” a prospect that, given Björk’s characteristically guttural delivery and minor-key dramaturgy, sounds less an endorsement of boho universalism and a lot more like a lamentation that we can’t throw, say, BP executives into a tank of killer whales. We’re in this melted polar cap together, and like Deepwater Horizon, it gets more ruined by oil all the time.