Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk has been shaking up the music scene with her eclectic brand of alt-pop since the nineties. Recently, her personal life experienced some shaking up of its own, and out of the remnants of heartbreak comes her new album, Vulnicura. Originally scheduled to be released in March 2015, Björk released the album two months early following an online leak in January. Co-produced by Arca and The Haxan Cloak, Vulnicura, which means “cure for wounds” in Latin (vulnus and cura), retells the the artist’s breakup with her former partner, Matthew Barney, with whom she has a 12-year-old daughter. Known for her innovative musical style that incorporates aspects of dance, rock, hip hop, and electronic music, Björk demonstrates in Vulnicura that apart from her sound innovation, she can also write emotionally-charged songs that tug at the stiffest of heartstrings.
Her touching story begins with “Stonemilker,” a duet between Björk and a melancholic cello, as she laments the lead-up to her romantic collapse. “We have emotional need/I wish to synchronize our feelings/Show some emotional respect,” croons Björk. The cello returns several tracks later – even more prominent than before – in “Black Lake,” where Björk masterfully illustrates her pain as she sings of drowning in her own ocean. The sheer length of this track, a full ten minutes, indicates the never-ending agony that inspired it. The song plays with volume, fading and then rising with an ebb and flow that mirrors the process of sadness: sometimes you think it’s over, but then it comes back. The cello is a perfect complement to her vocals in these tracks, its deep, sorrowful sound mirroring her words. The string arrangements are not always used to express sadness, however. In “Notget”, the sixth song on the album, Björk begins her healing process, accompanied by a fast-tempo violin. The increased tempo in the strings section reflects the singer regaining strength.
The minimalistic nature of the first half of Vulnicura largely focused on sorrow and string arrangements, is followed by a much more vibrant and upbeat second half. In “Atom Dance,” an uplifting dance is discernible in the call and response of the synths and the blend of Björk’s soaring voice with that of collaborator Antony Hegarty. In “Mouth Mantra,” she layers the synths on the percussions to create a hip hop tune. It is in these songs that the artist shines the brightest: her charged lyrics are complemented by her skilled production, creating an orchestra of synths that surrounds you with a plethora of sounds.
Although Vulnicura is emotionally rich, it somewhat lacks the innovative musical touch that Björk is known for, particularly in its first half. That said, this is the first time Björk has gotten up close and personal in her music, and the result, while not as musically challenging as her previous work, remains innovative through its humane depiction of falling out of love.
Vulnicura is available for purchase on iTunes.