Review: Björk’s Eccentric Brilliance Continues Exceptionally on ‘Vulnicura’


Björk, Vulnicura © One Little Indian

Björk • Vulnicura • One Little Indian • US Release Date: January 20, 2015

There is no artist quite like Björk, period. For many artists, making such a general, glaring statement would be outlandish and fallacious. However, anyone who has partaken of the Icelandic artist’s music knows that this is indeed the case with no questions ask. No one can emulate Björk, who is truly original – ‘one of a kind.’ Adding to this untouchable allure is when the musician drops a surprise album – sigh. Hearing of the availability of Vulnicura is enough to make the alt-music fan/nerd giggle like a schoolgirl with glee, or something like that!

“Stonemilker” opens Vulnicura lushly, certainly seeking to emulate ‘romance’ musically like a tone poem. Further examine/listen to the lyrics, and its clear that romance is exactly what Björk is going for. “Show me emotional respect,” she sings on the chorus, “I have emotional needs / I wish to synchronize our feelings.” The tone is set, as is the setting, which is ‘9 months before.’

“I’m not taming no animal / maybe he will come out of this.” Whoa! “Lionsong” comes ‘5 months before,’ showing the progression of the narrative and maybe most importantly, the degradation of romance. The mood has changed as Björk has some serious doubts and questions. “Maybe he will come out of this,” she sings throughout the lengthy, unorthodox song, ultimately demanding “clarity” and refusing the confusion is a “Sign of maturity / to be stuck in complexity.” The unsettling brilliance of “Lionsong” that Björk has constructed perfectly matches the tenor of an unsettling, unstable relationship.

“History of Touches” contrasts the first two songs of Vulnicura by settling for a modest three-minute duration. Briefer it may be, the ‘3 months before’ joint continues to hint at the inevitable breakup, but takes the time to enjoy the physical experiences. As suggested by its suggestive title, the music practically ‘screams’ sex. Then throw in sensual lyrics like “Stroke your skin and feel you / naked I can feel all of you…” or “Every single f*ck / we had together / is in a wondrous time lapse / with us here at this moment,” and its easy to see what Björk is getting at. No questions about this one!

“Black Lake” switches the narrative from ‘before’ to ‘after,’ hence marking a clear shift. An ambitious ten-minute song, “Black Lake” clearly wreaks of heartbreak and being destroyed. “Our Love was my womb / but our bond has broken,” Björk sings plaintively, “My shield is gone / my protection taken.” The lyrics are tormented, yet unquestionably beautiful and heartfelt. Add in the icy cold synths and pads and the ‘heart on your sleeves’ strings and this lengthy diary entry is irresistible. Among the most memorable lyrics, “I did it for love, honored my feelings / you betrayed your own heart / corrupted that organ.” Wow!

“Family” is just plumb freaky – in the enigmatic sense. From the opening tip, the listener can feel the tension and Björk clarifies this. A psychological song, Björk has a ‘funeral’ of sorts: “So where do I go / to make an offering / I fall on my knees / and lay my flowers / burn incense / light the candles.” Shit continues to get real as Björk sings against a backdrop of dreamy, reminiscent romantic music, “I raise a monument of love / there is a swarm of sound / around our heads…we can get healed by it.” Oh my! If Vulnicura wasn’t something of a mind-f*ck as a whole, “Family” is one in itself. One cool thing about “Family” is the recapitulation of the music featured from opener “Stonemilker,” though it’s distorted and less recognizable.

“Notget” arrives ’11 months after’ and has more of a distinct groove about it, even if it remains tense. Well honestly, tense and dark are understatements. After all, Björk does state “After our love ended / your spirit entered me / now we are the guardians / we keep her safe from death.” That genius lyric references the Björk’s child of the union, but could it also be she’s suggesting beyond their daughter that she can’t get past her ex since his ‘spirit’ is part of her? Depends on how you read into it.

“Our hearts are coral reefs in low tide / love is the ocean we crave.” Yep, exactly Björk, whatever you say. “Atom Dance” is what it is and that’s Björk at her most Björk-iest. Maybe her most profound statements of “Atom Dance” are that “No one is a lover alone” (true) and “Most hearts fear their own home” (deep). Scattered, uncomfortable, and unsual, “Atom Dance” continues to shape the brilliance of Vulnicura.

“Mouth Mantra” thematically seems to reference several things. One seems to be obvious that the singer had vocal surgery and had to rest her pipes. The other possibility is if “Mouth Mantra” transcends vocal rest, perhaps it fits the breakup narrative of Vulnicura and she kept quiet about her inner feelings about her breakup with Matthew Barney until this album.

Björk concludes Vulnicura with “Quicksand” – appropriate right? “You take away our future / and my continuity and my daughter’s / and her daughters / and her daughters…” This song isn’t a shade-fest in the least. It’s actually about Björk’s mother, and its confirmed by both the repetition of the line “Our mother’s philosophy” and a brilliant NY Times piece on Björk.

So how good is Vulnicura? It is nothing short of epic. EPIC! Who has the best album of 2015 so far? Her name is Björk. This album will take anybody on a trip.

Favorites: “Stonemilker,” “Lionsong,” “History of Touches,” “Black Lake”

 ★★★★½

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