Review Summary: There is a swarm of sound around our heads
Above all else, Bjork is a problem-solver. She sings about solutions a whole lot
, 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. "There is the mother and child, then there is the father and child / but no man and a woman - no triangle of love," sings Bjork in "Family," and it is a sentiment as panicked as it is harrowing. This thought, like many others on Vulnicura,
underscores the wounds that come from affection, and the pain accompanying a flame extinguished long ago, once vital and vibrant. Many of these dour confessions come from the album's first half, where Bjork is just beginning to question her relationship's legitimacy. In her interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, Bjork mentioned how she's not sure when she'll be able to listen to "Black Lake"- the album's centerpiece- because of how disquieting its questions are. When Bjork asks "Did I love you too much?," the nervousness in her quavering voice says it all- she's scared to hear the answer. One of her life's constants, weathered and faded, has left her with nothing more than her thoughts, her actions, her
. The beginning of Vulnicura
poses this as an unbearable possibility; its end welcomes the solitude.
Seclusion can be an incomparable trauma to someone, especially a person whose life has become predicated on companionship. The reason so many worthwhile breakup albums have been written is not that we listeners find venting fascinating- it's rather that we find ourselves going through the motions to try and understand how thoroughly the experience has changed the artist, and in which directions. Bjork's ninth studio album is the first to deal with such dismal and personal details, and is her most revealing as a result- through lyricism as well as through songwriting. Vulnicura
is gruesome because of its trying structure, abandoning accessibility for labyrinthine ideas that casually stumble off-course. It's no surprise that while the album's narrative is consistently necessary, its songs' moods often are at odds with each other- of course
this album was going to sound messy. Vulnicura
was doomed to possess a violent and virulent aesthetic the instant its purpose as a breakup album was made clear. The songs' instrumentation often comes off as sparse, as emotionally barren- this, in turn, forces listeners to rely on Bjork's vocal acrobatics to discern purpose. The songs with ample backdrop fare well, like the bombshell "Atom Dance"; the skimpier ones like "Mouth Mantra" get lost in the void.
was not reasonably expected by anyone to be a confidently written and expertly penned release- Bjork places its honesty before all else. But the album attempts to make the most out of its woes- every mourning process, every sign of anguish exists in order to ask questions, so that Bjork can locate an answer. Every dilemma has its solution. No song tells this story more plainly than "Quicksand," the album's final brush stroke. It endures as an affirmation of acceptance, as an endorphic rush that quells the album's many ruminations. The acidic splats of percussive throughout, anarchic and aggressive, serve to move the record forward at lightning-speed. By the end of this record, this song is what Bjork needs- it distances her from the painful truths her music has helped her unearth. It is escapism incarnate. None of Vulnicura
’s truths are more vital than the one Bjork shares in its chorus: "When I am broken I am whole, and when I am whole I am broken." Solace exists within loss for Bjork, comfort within longing- perhaps it is this very inequality that keeps her on track in the first place.