The high highs of Witch Too make it more than a simple curiosity.
Yoko Ono will never escape her legacy as the catalyst for the Beatles’ dissolution. However, if there’s one way for her to win millennial hearts, it’s to let their indie heroes remix her weirdest songs. Yes, I’m a Witch Too is the sequel to 2007’s Yes, I’m a Witch, which featured remixes by artists across the musical spectrum, from DJ Spooky to Cat Power. While Witch Too doesn’t offer the breadth of her first album of unexpected collaborations, cameos by Moby, Death Cab for Cutie and Miike Snow ensure that the album will receive at least a cursory listen from any modern music aficionado. At the very least, we get to hear artists we love doing something strange.
Just as surprising as the album’s concept, however, is its frequent success. Ono’s voice, while never exactly pleasant to listen to, carries the raw emotion necessary for a remix album, a malleable tool to service the intentions of whichever artist wields it. On Sparks’s standout “Give Me Something,” Ono sounds desperate, tortured and raw, in search of anything “hard” with which to anchor her life. On the next track, Penguin Prison turns “She Gets Down On Her Knees” into a funky, disco-inspired dance banger.
That’s not to say that every artist understands how exactly to handle Ono’s particular gifts and weaknesses. Death Cab for Cutie, one of the biggest names on the album, delivers one of the most disappointing tracks, accentuating Ono’s weirdness with their own skittering, disjointed backing music. Unlike the most successful remixes, which pull Ono back into a reality we recognize, Death Cab allows her to float away to her natural, least relatable sonic locales. Similarly, tUne-yArDs, who might seem to possess a spiritual affinity for Ono’s experimental feminist power, offers one of the least listenable tracks in “Warrior Woman.” Full of industrial noise and Shatner-esque spoken word monologues, it’s worth a single listen, but offers little in the way of musicality.
These lows prevent Witch Too from ever completely transcending the novelty of its premise. At certain moments, however, especially in the album’s first half, it’s almost possible to forget that I started listening to this as a joke. Peter Bjorn and John deliver one of the most emotionally resonant remixes with “Mrs. Lennon,” offering a simple guitar and drums background that allow Ono’s singular voice to conjure the subject matter, a by now holy portrait of her relationship with her late husband. Portugal the Man, by contrast, surround Ono with a large chorus on “Soul Got Out of the Box,” subverting Ono’s reputation as an offbeat loner. It adds a warmth and sense of community not normally associated with Ono’s other work.
While not enough to completely salvage the endeavor, the high highs of Witch Too make it more than a simple curiosity. You’ll never feel good listening to it straight through, but with an open mind, it’s more than worth the mouse click to add the album to your library on Spotify.