Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
Music has long been a form for humans to express their emotions. The very nature of drawing a sound from an instrument is emotive, especially with your own voice. When Björk began sculpting an intricate web of avant-garde pop at age 11 in 1977, though, Iceland stopped in its tracks. Soon after, the world did, too. Here was a woman whipping up arrangements so light and free that it seemed counter-intuitive for them to be as sodden as they were, but she found a way to make them intrinsic to the arts.
Björk has made an indelible mark on pop music, modern culture, and the art of the live performance. She’s able to come back strong each year as an unstoppable force, even when working behind the scenes on a MoMA Retrospective or low-key DJ sets. So when a low quality version of her brand new album Vulnicura leaked online, she beat the internet to the punch by dropping the official audio that same week.
In 1997, Björk released one of her most popular albums to this day, Homogenic. It was her love album to Icelandic nature. Homogenic was romantic but proud, caught up in the volcanic sounds of someone experimenting with beats. On it came “Jóga”, an explosive number riding on gorgeous string sections and detached drums. When paralleled with its music video–a spiraling take of Iceland’s landscapes shot on 16mm by director Michel Gondry–and her vocals, “Jóga” became one of Björk’s most sonically enticing numbers.
Meanwhile, another musician who emotes with ease was turning the ripe age of one when Björk’s debut dropped. Ane Brun, Norway’s whispery folk singer-songwriter, was busy experimenting with her family’s musical instruments before she began writing her own material at univeristy. It wasn’t until she moved to Sweden and played a few small shows that she began to take her career seriously. A few nods from Time Magazine and The Independent allowed her to pick up traction, later leading to collaborative work with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Nico Muhly.
In 2010, the Polar Music Prize Ceremony honored Björk and Italian composer Ennio Morricone as that year’s laureates, inviting them to join Yo-Yo Ma, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan. As tradition has it, a select group of musicians were welcomed to their own interpretation of the musicians’ work. Plenty of people took a stab at Bjork’s, including a jolting performance of “Hyperballad” by Robyn. However, Ane Brun’s performance was the best of the night — and possibly one of the best Björk covers to date.
It goes without saying that no one can top Björk. Her songs are too pure at their core to be mimicked. Ane Brun, however, came the closest we’ve seen to doing Björk justice. The slow strings and tug of Brun’s vocals reel the track back for a sad tone, watching harmony and pacing bob beside one another. There’s an undercurrent of longing that makes it feel freshly cut and deeply wounded. Hell, her performance was powerful enough to be included on her double CD Rarities in 2013.
With Björk looking on from the crowd, Ane Brun was under a lot of pressure — and in an interview later, she said she couldn’t even bring herself to look at Björk until she was done singing. Not only does this performance see her rise to the occasion, but her take brings an eerie depth to Björk’s hit. Some covers accept that they can’t outshine the original; Brun’s not only acknowledges that, but it reaches deep inside of her to give an emotional take that explains how breathtaking “Jóga” is for her on a personal level. That we can relate to.