Released: January 20th, 2015
Label: One Little Indian
By Tre Simmons
Emotional bloodletting isn’t something that comes easily to most people; as a matter of fact, we tend to hide our emotions and express only the most socially acceptable forms of feelings in front of others. When we demonstrate any extreme form of an emotion in a public air, we are seen as crazy, unstable, obnoxious, and others tend to separate themselves from us. These incredibly human processes are shown as weakness, but there are immense amounts of strength in showing that we aren’t always well put together. Björk’s Vulnicura does just the opposite of what we’re expected to do in social conditions; through coos, ululations and the typical vocal powerhouse moves we’ve seen in her past albums, Björk expresses every facet of one of the most wrenching experiences most of us will face or have at some point in time: a really, really bad breakup.
Björk and Matthew Barney had been partners for upwards of a decade, and while none of us were ever given a precise view into their personal lives, we’ve seen tidbits here and there through both of their works. Vulnicura represents the end of an era of domestic bliss. The album even documents approximate timeframes that each song was written in and accurately reflect the thoughts before, during, and after the ending of their relationship. The first three songs represent the questioning of threads that have been coming loose around their love and tranquility. In particular, “History Of Touches” finds Björk questioning everything that they’ve done in their time together and in painfully translucent detail, as she sings “I wake you up in the night / this is our last time together / therefore sensing all the moments / we’ve been together / being shared at the same time”. She can see the comfortably around her falling apart in real time, and while she’s aware of what’s being lost, it can only begin to make complete sense in retrospect. The album moves on to its most emotionally exhaustive moments in the ten-minute elegiac epic “Black Lake,” a song she describes as embarrassing and hard to listen to in a Pitchfork interview.
Through all of the heart break and vast emotional landscapes, Björk finds beauty and strength in collaboration. Electronic up-and-comer Arca, dub-techno producer The Haxan Cloak, and Antony (of Antony & The Johnsons’ fame) lend a hand to the sounds found on Vulnicura. The album is steeped in glitchy, but luminescent synths, sub-bass rumbles and swelling strings, made especially effective and rendered in vivid clarity through Arca and The Haxan Cloak’s production. Sonically, the album hearkens back to a combination of her previous two masterpieces, the wintery Vespertine and pristine Homogenic, but here the elements combine to tell tales that she has only hinted at previously. The collaboration with Antony on “Atom Dance” works seamlessly with the songs around it and lend credence to their continuing musical partnership. With friends and a clearer mind possessed in looking back on the emotional turmoil she dealt with, Björk begins to build herself back up again, stating in closer “Quicksand,” “When she’s broken she is whole / and when she’s whole she’s broken.” This recognizing of human flaw as what makes us complete and imperfect simultaneously allows Björk to recognize that she has the ability to move on no matter how much it may hurt, and the sounds found on Vulnicura prove she can make a musical monument to the tough trials we all face in life. Here, what’s most important is clarity, and Björk finds that in memories, reflection, and in pressing on towards whatever the future holds.