The dissolution of a love relationship, its emotional turbulence and the havoc wrought on a newly wounded heart, all bear startling subject for the eighth studio album by Icelandic, electronic-minstrel, Björk. There is no doubt that upon its first full-length experience, Vulnicura (an abstract portmanteau of the words vulnerable and cure) may in fact be her most poignant and important release to date. With a back catalogue as expansive, experimental and sonically verbose as Björk’s, it is no surprise that an entire album she attests to being about “pure heart break” would seem an extraordinary tangent from her 2011 release, Biophilia - in which she explored the fusion of music, the universe and modern technology in a contemporary conduit.
As responses unfold to Vulnicura, I have encountered several comparisons to 2001’s Vespertine, touting it a companion piece, with Vulnicura being the yin equivalent to Vespertine’s yang. Although, to compare Vulnicura to any of Björk’s previous releases would in fact disfavour its candour as it is, quite simply put, a chronological account of the breakdown of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, and the destruction of a familial triad all unfolding in heart-straining strings and circling synths. Perhaps the most striking component to this record is its lyrical honesty, as it comes across in moments, a dirge-like lament imposing submission on the emotional space of the listener. This is certainly not an easy listen – its stark lyricism contrasted with the brooding echo of cello and violin instrumentation, intentionally pluck at the heartstrings as you enter what feels like a sacred, soul-bearing space.
The production of Vulnicura is nothing short of impressive. Forming what is this time an aural collaborative triad through Venezuelan co producer Arca, The Haxan Cloak and regular contributor Antony Hegarty, the three provide a seamless, sensual addition to the often affecting lyrical landscape. The album’s opener ‘Stonemilker’ is a beautifully heart-shattering fusion of wallowing strings and languidly arranged beats. The juxtaposition of orchestral string arrangements and Arca’s flowing accents are especially vigorous in the tracks ‘Family’ and ‘Quicksand’ – where the complex didactic arrangements swell almost as the beginning of a tide to the shore of Björk’s sentiment. The album’s heart-stopping centrepiece ‘Black Lake’ is a haunting ballad in which she professes feelings of abandonment and the destruction of the covenant of her family. “Family was always our sacred mutual mission, which you abandoned,” she laments into a shattering abyss of echoing strings. Hegarty’s voice (the only other we hear on this record) projects as a fragmentary, ghostly phantom in ‘Atom Dance,’ and offers what seems to be a supportive embrace to Björk’s attempted return to emotional wholeness.
In a lot of ways, Vulnicura feels regenerative, and in a recent interview, Björk attests to the fact that through the adversity of its process, she “rediscovered music.” Music is in many ways her safe-haven albeit her emotive organ, and with utmost humility continues to be, her sole saviour.
Vulnicura is now available on iTunes and will be available in hard copy format via One Little Indian Records in March.