What if I told you that about 5 years ago an album came out containing some really huge names in music, but that nobody had bought that album because they didn't know it existed? Songs From The Cold Seas is just that sort of a disc. In fact, I wouldn't have even known it myself had I not had a fascination with music about large bodies of water and picked it up to see what the fuss was about. When I flipped it over is when I got the surprise, though.
Big names in music were written across the back of the release. Names like Bjork, Susanne Vega, John Cale, Jane Siberry, Siouxsie (of the Banshees), Brendan Perry (of Dead Can Dance), B.J. Cole, Marc Ribot, and the Balanescu Quartet. The crazy thing is that the list above isn't even nearly complete. There are literally scores of artists that contributed to this interesting collection of songs based around the Arctic Ocean. There are pop songs, ethnic songs, and even tracks that enter a more experimental category, yet the album is surprisingly cohesive and there is a lot of amazing work contained within.
Some of the highlights include the aforementioned Bjork singing in her native tongue Icelandic over restrained accompaniment of only a clarinet and soft keyboards. "Visur Vatnsenda-Rosu" is one of the more delicate tracks that Bjork has ever done, and it works like a lullaby to sailors lost at sea. While the track "The Long Voyage" comes up next and takes a decidingly more mainstream approach, the dual vocals between Vega and Cale offset one another nicely and give the album a little lighter touch after the sullen previous track.
"Adventures In the Scandinavian Skin Trade" takes a much more electronic approach to things with a rather muted beat and some electronic warblings in the background, but the vocals by Vimme Saari are some of the most interesting on the album. "The Lighthouse" with Siouxsie on vocals takes an even more drudging beat, but offsets it with some pretty chimes and other interesting sounds, giving it sort of a dark trip-hop edge. Tracks like "Yakut Song" and "Oran Na Maighdean Mhara" make use of more regional instruments and vocals (including vocals in different scandanavian languages) to help balance out the more "English" tracks by above mentioned artists.
Really, the album is varied enough that I think most anyone could find something they liked on it. Whether you like Bjork, or even if you go for more mainstream fare like Enya or Clannad (or any of the performers listed), it's a release that is completely rich with different cultural sounds and full of amazing voices and music. It's not surprising that it's not a very upbeat release, but writing music about the cold arctic sea isn't exactly something to sing bubblegum pop tunes to. There are light moments among the tracks, but for the most part it's a more somber, but beautiful affair.