Björk

Vulnicura

One Little Indian

Jan 28, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The early leak of Björk's latest album two months before the planned released, and her consequential handling of it, is a fitting allegory for the emotional rawness Vulnicura exposes us to. Clearly, this is not how Björk meant for things to work out. But rather than ignoring it, or stiffening with pride and ownership, Björk faces it head on, but makes sure everyone knows how much it really hurts. 

Vulnicura deals with the dissolution of Björk's longtime relationship with artist Matthew Barney. Structurally, it is a story told in three acts, with three songs each exploring the realization that it's over, the breakup, and the aftermath. It is expressive and honest, and cuts about as deep as pop music is capable without degrading entirely into a hopeless depression.

"Stonemilker" comes from a woman who knows the end is near, but has yet to sink into acceptance. She acknowledges it, rationally, logically, but the overall mood is still hopeful and sweet, either blissfully unaware of the despair that's in store or emotionally preparing for it. There is a major hint that the song was penned at a time when her foresight into her partnership's fate was particularly astute. "Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this," she sings, before facing the inevitable in "Lionsong." "Maybe he will come out of this/Maybe he won't/Somehow I'm not too bothered/Either way." "History of Touches" might be the most hauntingly brutal song on the album, recounting the whole of their relationship in the last time they have sex. A painful sentiment in less artistic hands, but Björk manages to find the encounter beautiful in its own way, by clinging to her neo-pagan spirituality and interpreting the experience as the last refuge of communication.

Vulnicura starts to dive deeper with "Black Lake," the album's longest track, which maintains a pulsing theme of strings broken intermittently by an offbeat confessional, pinpointing the most crucial parts of Björk's heartbreak. "Family was always our sacred mutual mission/Which you abandoned/You have nothing to give/Your heart is hollow." These are not the words of a woman merely working through a breakup. These are the words of someone mourning the death of a significant part of her life. She doesn't let up, either, driving the critical points of betrayal and abandonment further in on the following "Family," which expounds on these themes, but intersperses jarring breaks of rhythm and staccato dischord throughout the otherwise melancholy structure, an echo of the disruption and confusion caused by this heartbreak.

On "Black Lake," Björk compares herself to a rocket reentering the atmosphere, burning off layers upon her arrival. As if this idea needed any more evidence, the final third of Vulnicura finds Björk back in her most elegant stride. The album ends strongly, a welcome revisiting of Björk's strengths. "Atom Dance" could very well be a cut from Vespertine, full of cosmic connectivity and spatial depth. Of course, the difference is that her focus is not pointed at a northern landscape or vast horizon, but inward, at the tiny particles of humans that interact.

Vulnicura manages the most fundamental motivation of art; it turns the trauma and humiliation of personal struggle into something beautiful. But as much as it is laden with the narrative of her personal journey, it is musically a return to form. Björk rediscovers her most primal qualities here, but not without flare or progress. She is known for curating an enigmatic persona, at times alien or elemental. Here we get a glimpse of Björk at her most vulnerable, and what is most surprising is just how lovely she is when she indulges her basic humanity. (www.bjork.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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