A new Björk album dropped very suddenly, and along with it, so did everything I was doing. Because when Björk releases any new music, anywhere, that’s kind of the appropriate reaction.
Announced 2 weeks ago, Vulnicura was due in March, but was unfortunately leaked just about the day after said announcement. One week later, Björk officially released the album. I bought it right away, of course.
Holy smokes, where do I start? This is unlike anything she has done before. I mean, that’s true with any album, especially since Björk likes to experiment with new sounds and styles with each album. But I mean, this is really, really unlike anything she’s done before. The beats are reminiscent of Homogenic, but the strings make me think of Vespertine, while the vocals and mixing remind me a bit of Volta. But it’s still purely in a class of its own.
This is also the most personal album Björk has ever written. Literally. As in, it’s a document of her breakup with her long time partner Matthew Barney. It is like reading a diary. It’s voyeuristic, heartbreaking, and, at times, uncomfortable. She definitely made this album for herself first – to get all the emotion and pain out, for self-healing. Vulnicura means “wound cure” in Latin (basically – Björk has fudged with words to make them into album titles before).
This album is so heavy. As I was listening to it, I could feel my heart sinking. You can just hear the sadness and pain in her voice. I found myself asking “Man, is she gonna be alright?” It’s just that real and honest. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother or to go through a divorce, but I can’t help but wonder if this is what it feels like for a woman who is a mother to go through a divorce. As I said, this album is pretty much an emotional documentation of her breakup with Matthew Barney. Every time she sings about “you” or “he” she’s referring to him. In the album booklet, she even documents when each song takes place. The first three songs are the months before the breakup. The next three are the months after. The final three seem to follow the moment when she finally lifts herself up and begins to heal and look back on it all.
While all of this baring herself to her listeners seems very spontaneous, every bit of this album is incredibly deliberate. I like the writing here a lot better than on Biophilia. The sound is also a lot more consistent. The tracks are pretty long, so this album is not a quick listen. You don’t just play random tracks. It’s meant to be heard as a whole, like a meal served all at once, not in courses. Still, my favorite tracks by far are “Lionsong,” “History of Touches,” and “Atom Dance.”
“Black Lake” is beautiful and tragic. This is where I felt my heart sinking the most. This is where it felt the heaviest. And then you get to “Family” and it just hits you. This is so, so, so personal. She is singing about Matthew and their daughter – it’s literally her family. It builds up to such a frantic desperation and then it just…lets go. Another thing I really enjoy in the album is the pacing. Like I said, it’s just so deliberate and well-orchestrated. And again, just to go back to the writing, some of my favorite lyrics include:
Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this – “Stonemilker”
How will I sing us/Out of this sorrow – “Family”
We are each others’ hemispheres – “Atom Dance”
When I’m broken I am whole – “Quicksand”
It’s really hard to say much more about this album. It’s just pure emotion and raw honesty, and it’s hard to just…talk about that. What I can do is recommend these articles. The first is an interview from Pitchfork that gets into the making of and inspiration behind the album, as well as her continued frustrations with how the music journalism industry treats her as a female artist. It gets wonderfully feminist at the end. There’s also this New York Time article which covers her history and journey up until this point, including a little more insight into the making of the album. Finally, this NPR article really gets into the nitty gritty critical analysis of this album. Read it if you feel like you didn’t get enough from my amateurish attempt at reviewing it! This was definitely a tough one. It’s a must-have for any Björk fan, naturally, or even for someone going through or fresh out of a breakup. It’s incredibly sad but also therapeutic, from start to finish. Hence, “wound cure.”