Release Date: Jan 20, 2015
Record label: One Little Indian
Vulnicura is a deeply tortured album. It is tortured in the way that the conversations in your head are. The arguments and confessions that rattle back and forth inside your skull. Waves of monologue rippling through brain tissue, sputtering and sloshing about in the white noise wash of a continuous feedback loop.
For many years Björk as an individual, rather than as an artist, has been an unknowable quantity.Her private life was closely guarded and her more recent albums avoided discussion of personal experiences; many tracks ditching any pretence of a first person perspective. Instead she concerned herself with loftier ideas - the blurring of science, nature and technology on Biophilia, and concepts of energy, place and freedom on Volta. Even when she did sing from a more personal perspective the stories and themes were largely universal - we as an audience listened, yet rarely did we go digging for secrets and deep insight into the life of the artist.
“There is a way out” So says Björk, a physical and aural embodiment of musical iconoclasm with a career spanning three decades, bridging punk, folk, industrial, electronica, iPhone apps and whatever else she can gather within her swathing vocal range and all-encompassing compositional flair, states of her latest album—Vulnicura—in a post on Facebook. The above quote is excerpted from a larger note about the album, its concepts, its production and its early release (originally scheduled for March, it was pushed ahead nearly two months after being leaked a mere week after its announcement). It's not the singular point of Vulnicura—an album about breaking up, falling apart, lashing out, pulling together and moving on—but that message is ever present at its core: There is a way out.
From an (almost) unprecedented leak two whole months before its release date to its heavy subject matter, emotion is undoubtedly the crux of Björk's ninth studio record. Born in the wake of the Icelandic pop savant's separation from partner Matthew Barney in 2013, Vulnicura is a poignant look at the thoughts and feelings that come with end of a relationship and the healing process that follows. Defining it simply as a "breakup record" would be selling the effort short, having come from the mind of an artist who penned her previous album around the phenomena of Mother Nature.
Never one to do things timidly, with Vulnicura Björk delivers a breakup album that doesn't just express sadness -- it immerses listeners in the total devastation of heartbreak. Starting with the album cover's wound/vulva imagery, she explores the tightly linked emotional and physical pain the end of a relationship brings with an intensity that has been missing from her music for too long. As expertly as she wedded feelings and concepts on Medúlla, Volta, and especially Biophilia, hearing her sing directly about her emotions is a galvanizing reminder of just how good she is at it.
Björk albums tend to focus either on a particular approach to sound, or a particular theme or idea. Medúlla, for example, used the possibilities of the human voice as a springboard for inspiration, whilst Biophilia found her exploring the relationship between technology and nature. On her very best albums, she has found a total unity of form and content.
There is a part of you that feels like it’s dying when the person you wrapped yourself around leaves your life. It is like an amputation. Left attached, the dead thing would have killed you. Severed, the loss gapes enormous. There is no limb left, but the limb hurts. There’s no one left to ….
If the best art really does come out of the most personally trying situations, then Björk’s eighth studio album, Vulnicura certainly upholds that theory. On the day that the album leaked on iTunes (two months before the original release date), the Icelandic artist posted on her Facebook page that Vulnicura is, “a complete heartbreak album.” And true to her word, Vulnicura documents the dissolution of her more-than-a-decade-long relationship with avant-garde visual artist Matthew Barney. The nine tracks on Vulnicura document this distraught nature “in pretty much accurate emotional chronology,” Björk writes.
"I was separated / From what I can do / What I'm capable of," sings Björk on "Mouth Mantra," a track from her new album, Vulnicura. In recent years, Björk's music has begun to feel detached. There was 2007's vibrant but scattershot Volta, and then 2011's Biophilia, a sprawling multimedia project that sought to unite the spheres of art, technology and nature.
Björk has logged nearly 30 years of increasing artistic cred and platform-omnivorous ambition, and she has the enviable ability to anticipate sonic and technological waves just before they crest. But her albums over the past decade have underwhelmed, despite their reach and sense of craft. Part of it’s how Björk, as she’s grown as an artist, has grown inward; at her best (parts of Medúlla and Biophilia), her albums come off like slivers of some grand unrealized possibility—undeniably dazzling, but intimidating for everyone who isn’t Björk.
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.
While the initial conversation surrounding Björk’s latest full-length concerned the internet leaks that led to its premature online release, it quickly became apparent that the real story was the work itself. With Vulnicura, Björk has made the kind of album that her admirers have been quietly hoping she was capable of: an open-hearted, emotionally complex and musically adventurous collection of songs that nobody else could have made. Though previous albums Medúlla, Volta and Biophilia were full of dazzling ideas, they were broadly cerebral records, the latter in particular seeming to be more interested in cross-platform educational apps than songs.
Hand Björk a topic on Mastermind, give her a few weeks of research time, and she’d come back the most unchallengeable of experts. Zero holes spoil her theory and form of expression. Previous LP ‘Biophilia’ was a bonkers attempt to detail Mother Nature in just under an hour. Follow-up ‘Vulnicura’ tackles a tougher topic: Heartbreak.
A long relationship ending feels like a ton of bricks crushing your chest, and the weight is time. The weight is every second you spent together, seconds you alternately feel were completely wasted, and are utterly, tragically irretrievable. The relationship, which with its in-jokes, personal body language, history and intimacy becomes a third being that mediates between two people.
By now, the latter-day Björk project – beats and strings like living things, electronics in awe at the cosmos, Björk’s inimitable holler – has become familiar. Atoms can still dance around on track seven, but this is a very different Björk LP. Vulnicura finds the Icelandic artist charting the breakdown of her relationship; beatmaker Arca, backing vocalist Antony Hegarty and mixer the Haxan Cloak provide backup.
No one in their right mind would ever call Björk’s ninth studio album Vulnicura a “back-to-basics” record, particularly because there’s never been anything “basic” about Björk’s music, but also because, despite its minimal instrumentation, refined arrangements and thematic clarity, Vulnicura is a harrowingly difficult album. Still, there’s something elemental and reductive about it, especially coming off of the singer’s 2011 effort, the wide-eyed and extravagant Biophilia. The root of this stylistic withdrawal, as keenly noted by literally everyone reporting on the album, is the Björk’s tumultuous breakup in 2013 with longtime partner and father of her daughter, visual artist Matthew Barney.
Full of inquisitive, childlike wonder, Björk’s album Biophilia gazed upon the Earth and the grand universe around it, with eyes fixed firmly upon the lenses of both the microscope and the telescope. The atomic, cosmic, cellular and natural worlds were dissected and celebrated, sparking open debate and discourse on technology, musicology and the environment. The record spawned a concert film, a documentary, some ingenious educational apps and even the development of a few new instruments.
Björk's 2011 Biophilia addressed the universe, from molecular to cosmic levels, and was presented in elaborate formats, including an interactive app. Her latest couldn't be simpler: a breakup album, that most common pop coin. But with Björk, even simplicity is intricate business. Arranged for voice with orchestral strings and electronic beats, Vulnicura is a unified set of nine dark, swarming, melodically distended songs.
Björk’s last album, 2011’s ‘Biophilia’, was a multimedia project examining the connections between nature, sound and technology – or “the universe”, as she succinctly put it. It became known as an “app” album and it wasn’t a gimmick. It made a powerful (and fun) statement about how the 49-year-old’s home country, Iceland, could be run after the financial crisis, instantly making almost everyone else operating in the field of popular music seem a bit thick.‘Vulnicura’, her eighth full-length, appears to forgo the grand gesture by concentrating on the personal within a very established format – the breakup album.
Seven tracks into Vulnicura comes a song called Atom Dance. It is the moment when the mood of Björk’s ninth solo album finally shifts a little, from black despair to something close to battered optimism. It’s a kind of avant-garde I Will Survive. The lyrics aren’t the best on Vulnicura – after almost 40 minutes of starkly drawn emotional turmoil, there’s something jarring about her breaking out the kooky physics metaphors and inspirational poster-type slogans about dancing through the pain and learning by love to open up.
Review Summary: There is a swarm of sound around our headsAbove all else, Bjork is a problem-solver. She sings about solutions a whole lot on Vulnicura, particularly in the final suite of "Family." It's the same moment the song stills, too- she is looking for answers of her own in that warm resolution, attempting to confirm the existence of solutions somewhere. The musician isn't aiming to vanquish petty dilemmas, but instead to deeper wounds- for instance, to cope with the disintegration of familial structure after two parents no longer share love.
“Find our mutual coordinates,” Björk coos on “Stonemilker,” the ravishing avant-classical opening salvo of her new album, Vulnicura. It's a sentiment of direct romantic longing as translated by a singer fascinated by the measurable forces that move people and the world surrounding them—and nothing surprising from the multimedia enthusiast behind 2011's Biophilia, an album with song titles like “Mutual Core” and “Cosmogony. ” But if Björk, thematically, doesn't appear to have changed station, the song's swirl of dramatic strings and dirge-like pace puts Vulnicura far afield from its relatively more pop-minded predecessor.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis > It’s time we bid a fond, and final, farewell to the avant-pop singer who once danced atop a flatbed truck in the middle of New York City. That version of Björk has been off, wandering among the clouds ever since her laptop unleashed the hushed and humble Vespertine in 2001. Björk’s first three LPs endure as monuments to sonic experimentation and, more importantly, exquisite popcraft.
Vulnicura makes its intentions clear from the outset. “Moments of clarity are so rare,” Björk sings on the opening track, “I’d better document this”. “This” is the breakdown of her 13-year relationship with the artist Matthew Barney, and as such Vulnicura aims for total catharsis, Björk attempting to process emotional pain by recording the events surrounding it in unflinching detail, down to the chronological markers noted in the accompanying booklet (“four months before”, “four months after”, and so on).
In the opening measures of Björk's new album, "Vulnicura," the Icelandic artist offers a direct statement of purpose, one involving personal upheaval she describes as "a juxtapositioning fate." Mentioning "moments of clarity as so rare, I better document this," Björk directs her gaze in that first song, "Stonemilker," on the dissolution of a relationship. As she does so, what can be described only as Björkian strings and beats swirl around her. These drifting arrangements soar through tracks like birds spinning circles in prairie skies, even as the experimental pop singer, 49, lyrically crawls through the brush below in utter confusion.
Last time Bjork beamed in, she was trying to piece together the fragmented cosmos in an ambitious multimedia science project, “Biophilia” (2011). Now she sets a different task for herself: how to mend a heart. “Vulnicura” (One Little Indian) is direct and emotionally transparent in a way that the daunting and abstract “Biophilia” wasn’t.
With all of its Kanye West parallels—producer Arca, the short-notice release, the singular artistic voice—it’s tempting to call Björk’s ninth album Bjeezus. But the circumstances of Vulnicura more closely resemble Madonna’s recent EP: Both were thrust into the world earlier than planned, a reaction to the increasingly common problem of music leaking. But that’s only the second saddest thing about Vulnicura.
"Eternal pain and horrors" is one of many traumatic lyrics Björk uses to describe her breakup with artist Matthew Barney on her ninth studio album. On the song Notget, agitated strings collide with panting beats as she screeches "deeeaaathhhh" like a Japanese horror movie demon crawling out of your stereo speakers. The Icelandic musician has been recording since age 11, but this is the first time she has opened up in such excruciatingly specific - even vitriolic - detail.
Well, this isn't what I hoped for from my new Björk album at all. I wanted, after Biophilia's crowning glory, a sparky fresh start. I wanted harsh beats, crackling energy, new ideas. What I got is a mortuary slab of cold, heavy pain, forensically picked over. Saying that, Vulnicura probably wasn't ….
The big news about Björk’s ninth studio album, “Vulnicura,” shouldn’t be the fact that she released it suddenly online, two months before its planned appearance, in response to having it leaked prematurely. It should be that in her latest songs, Björk leads as much with her heart as her brain. “Biophilia,” the album-and-apps package she released in 2011, was a grandly cerebral edifice of cross-mapped concepts: music, science, pedagogy and technology, from the mechanical to the virtual.
Just days after announcing her return, the newly single Ms. Guðmundsdóttir surprised us all with a new LP, Vulnicura. After floating through the tuneless, vague sounds of 2011’s pretentious Biophilia, Björk sets her gaze from the infinite to something far more personal: the disintegration of her marriage. Paradoxically, splitting from the father of her children, Matthew Barney, yields her ninth and most accessible album in ages.