Björk has arrived at her eighth album and like each record before it, this one is its own event. Vulnicura was touted as “a return to form” before its February leak ruptured Björk’s March roll-out.
The Icelandic songstress took the blow in stride, making Vulnicura digitally available to audiences a month before its physical release. Very recent career retrospectives in print and at New York’s Museum of Modern Art also dressed the stage for Vulnicura to be born to high expectations. Were the whispers warranted? Had Björk come home to the sound arc that birthed classics such as Post (1995), Homogenic (1997) and Vespertine (2001)?
Vulnicura’s personal ruminations orbit her recent separation from artist and former partner Matthew Barney. That life event colors Vulnicura thematically, though the actual song prints themselves aren’t dissimilar from what Björk has touched on in the past. It’s true that of the four LPs left in Vespertine’s wake, Vulnicura’s glacial strings and melodies eye the elegance synonymous with the mentioned Vespertine and Homogenic albums.
Further, dissonant electronics are still at Björk’s disposal. They jut from the songs’ shores where Björk’s semi-tamed singing crashes against their craggy surfaces. They (the songs) should be cold, but somehow the arrangements retain warmth and fullness.
Said fullness is somewhat owed to the fact that the average run time of a track on Vulnicura is anywhere from six-to-eight minutes. It’s almost a novelty that only two songs (“History of Touches” and “Quicksand”) hit three minutes. The breathing room the songs have―with “Black Lake” ballooning to the 10 minute mark―can be misread as indulgent.
Vulnicura will require multiple spins to reveal its layers. In that regard, Björk has become the mistress of the realm of the album. She knows exactly how to make music that will gain traction as it accrues age; it’s a problematic truth for fans missing the immediacy of her first two LPs.
Directed by: Inez and Vinoodh
Lyrically, Björk is a woman wounded, but brave enough to heal on the new long player―the album’s title means “to cure wounds”. Yet, to come to that resolution, Björk has to question herself and her former lover. Had the fuel for for their attraction become an accelerant for eventual heartbreak? On “Black Lake” she muses: “You fear my limitless emotions, I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions. Did I love you too much? Devotion bent me broken, so I rebelled, I destroyed the icon”. This is music by an adult in an age where it’s shameful to be an established act embracing that notion―Björk dives into it headfirst.
Vulnicura scales back on concept, something that sank her previous efforts in the last decade, and wanders adulthood pathos. This part of the human experience has its own adventures (and perils) that make for fantastic listening. Björk never sounded better. Ranking: Semi-classic
[Editor’s Note: Vulnicura is available digitally and physically. For current information on Björk, visit her official website.-QH]