Review Summary: If Homogenic and Vespertine had a baby...
Bjork was hurt. She was hurt really bad once, and she has a lot to say about it. That much becomes abundantly clear just two minutes into Stonemilker
, the sprawling, seven-minute opener to Vulnicura. The expertly crafted string arrangements swim on top of a subtly constructed beat, not sounding far off from the Homogenic gem, Joga
. But while Joga
took this impeccable style that compliments Bjork’s iconic voice so well and condensed it into an classic pop song structure, Stonemilker
unravels this formula and flows boundless in a cathartic release, setting the tone for the rest of the album. This sense of sprawl is a running theme throughout Vulnicura, with all but two of the nine tracks extending well over six minutes in length, each utilizing a perfect marriage of strings and beats, as provided by the Venezuelan newcomer, Arca (notable for his work with FKA twigs and Kanye West, as well has his excellent debut album, Xen), all to varying degrees across this collection of songs.
Lyrically the album deals with a pretty familiar theme. Heartbreak and loneliness are about the most standard topics in pop, but Bjork takes these themes and breaks them down into poetic words that encompass so much feeling without the clichés. Family
for example focuses on Bjork’s personal disillousionment after her family triangle between mother-father-child was severed. On the albums centerpiece, the ten minute Black Lake,
Bjork sings “You fear my limitless emotions/I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions/Did I love you too much.” This is scorned lover role that even the listener feels uncomfortable hearing Bjork play. While calling Black Lake
a diss track might be slightly off base, it is not hard to pick up the anger in her voice layered beneath the wave of heartbreak emotion she expels across the song.
While Vulnicura uses strings as it’s crutch to support the sadness of Bjork’s words, there are moments where the beats are allowed to take control. The urgent Mouth Mantra
has a quick glitch-inspired beat. If Stonemilker
was this album’s Joga
would be what Pluto
was on Homogenic, again broken out of form and allowed to expand violently.
Frankly, Vulnicura is an exhausting album, and intentionally so. Upon release Bjork made it a point to say that the concepts of this album are intentionally “self indulgent” as she put it. This is like a peak into her private life and thoughts that even she has issues revisiting still. All nine of these songs are a release of intense feeling, but in a sense this can cause a bit of a downside for the album. Every single one of these nine songs is incredible in their own way, but when assembled altogether, it makes the album very heavy to listen to. There is never a moment to breathe under the emotional weight. Though it seems almost counterintuitive, the album really begs for just one truly accessible song to act as a spindle for the rest of these cathartic waves of wrap around. There is no Army of Me,
here, even 2011’s scientific-app album Biophillia had more conventional pop songs than anything found on Vulnicura. The most conventional here would be Lion Song,
featuring the most clearly distinguishable chorus, in which Bjork sings, “Maybe he will come out of this loving me” and while it is beautifully put together, it doesn’t quite satisfy what is needed to truly complete the album.
Regardless, the body of work that Vulnicura is constructed as, is truly an incredible pool of songs. They act as both an emotional release, but also showcase a unique style for Bjork. While the sounds found here are not as drastic of a change in sound as say, her collaborations with Timbaland on Volta, this album is less about developing new sounds than it is a marriage of debatably her two most impeccable albums, the string and beat-heavy Homogenic and the intricately woven textures of Vespertine. While Vulnicura might not have some of the innovative qualities that these albums had, it is a strong addition to Bjork’s catalogue of music that is already impressive beyond words.