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From complex meditations on nature and technology to a piece of raw emotion. This is the journey Björk makes between her last album and multimedia project, Biophilia, and her new offering, Vulnicura.
This is a break-up album. Not any break-up album; one documenting the dissolution of a decades-long relationship and reflecting on how it will affect the daughter in the midst of it. The creative artifact Björk has produced from this experience is as painful and vulnerable as that sounds. Musically, it sounds like both a return to her roots and a creative maturing.
Björk began creating Vulnicura by arranging music for 15 strings, which lend a gorgeous, organic tone to the album. This is married with her love of experimentation with electronics and beats, this time written and produced in collaboration with producers Arca and The Haxan Cloak.
From the beginning, Vulnicura feels like a concentration of Björk’s songwriting skill into something more concise and urgent. Stonemilker draws us in with breathtaking elegance, soaring strings and a beautiful sense of space reminiscent of Homogenic‘s Joga.
The stripped back History of Touches and the urgent, 10-minute break-up track Black Lake – written like waves – take us to the source. We recognise the surging pain and confusion of someone whose heart is breaking, and it is given gorgeous expression in her imaginative arrangement of strings and unlikely playfulness with beats, which break into progressive house at lunges.
The deep sadness of Family is heightened by the appearance of an aggressive cello break and manipulated choral harmonies as the singer demands to know, “How will I sing us out of this sorrow?”
The change happens in the second half of the album, which feels like a healing of sorts. Likely unique Björk-created instruments appear, as does a cameo from Antony Hegarty on the masterpiece Atom Dance; a song which crystallises Björk’s fascination with universal existence in visceral electronics and structural experimentation, while moving the album towards its crescendo and, ultimately, abrupt end, which cries, “Every time you give up, you take away our future … and my daughter’s, and her daughter, and her daughter…”
This is a perfect closing to an intensely personal and universal album. It’s a sudden death; a story unfinished, and one for reflection.
Björk said that, having found the contents of this album in her lap, she approached it like an anthropologist, but also knew it had to be a singer-songwriter album. This is palpable. You can follow her trajectory of grief. Every song seems vital and fresh. Björk continues to break boundaries with this album in the only way she could – with a human heart.