Very few solo artists are as diverse and experimental as Björk. In a career spanning 22 years (not counting her album released when she was 12), she’s released music ranging from Alternative Rock, to Trip Hop, Jazz, Ambient and even Avant-Garde. Every album takes the listener to a new musical destination as Björk really gets stuck into whatever instruments or computer programs she can get her hands on. Vulnicura is no different. Musically the album can perhaps be linked most closely to Biophilia and Homogenic, but with some very important differences.
Lyrically Björk has really laid her heart out for all to see; most people will now know that Vulnicura is a ‘break-up’ album, but to call it that sounds so Teen Pop. A more fitting name is a ‘heart-break’ album. Björk’s lyrics flit between desperate, confused, loving, but always highly emotional. She takes the listener on a moving, personal journey through the last days of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, detailing every feeling, every emotion beautifully. Songs go from that of desperation, such as in the beautiful ‘Lionsong’ where Björk repeats “maybe he will come out of this loving me”, straight into the ‘History of Touches’, which fondly recounts a sexual encounter between the two. It’s confusing, but then, what break-ups aren’t?
Musically, Björk does a very good job of accompanying this sorrow with a fitting sound. At first listen, words like ‘sparse’ and ‘raw’ spring to mind when trying to describe this album, with Björk’s emotive vocals often merely accompanied by an electronic drum beat or a string quartet. A lot of this harks back to Biophilia, but Vulnicura is lacking the bombastic nature of that album; while before she had been celebrating the glory of nature, now Björk is left in sadness. The combination of electronics and strings sometimes creates a detached feeling, at times bordering on a feeling of madness, such as exhibited in ‘Family’.
It’s incredible to see the transformation Björk has made over her career. This girl who appeared upbeat and pixie-like in Debut and Post is not the same woman who appears to us here, crooning about death in ‘Notget’, or whose voice is almost lost within the pound of a drum pad in ‘Black Lake’. Vulnicura is an astounding transformation and exhibits perfectly what helps make Björk such a great artist.
Of course, Vulnicura is not an easy listen; you’d find it a tricky listen to if you were taking a walk to the shops or as background music for an evening of wine and cheese. Due to its nature, it’ll naturally bring you down. File this album with 808’s and Heartbreaks and Blood on the Tracks as an album to listen to when you’ve just experienced loss, it won’t cheer you up, but it will sympathise with you. Not only that, but it’s an album to lose yourself in; like most of Björk’s releases, and demands the attention of the listener with unusual beats, clicks and harmonies.
At the end of the day, you’d be stupid not to admit that Björk has created something wonderful here. It’s a striking album, delving into the personal life of a woman who’s had her heart broken, scooping it out and exposing it to the world. I don’t feel like it’s an album you can have on repeat, but when you do choose to listen to it, it’ll blow your mind. Björk rarely fails to disappoint, and Vulnicura is another triumph for the Icelandic singer.