There was nothing snappy about Biophilia, Björk’s last studio release. Not just an album, but a multi-format, multi-year campaign that encompassed apps, visual art, films, school syllabuses, abandoned Kickstarter projects and David Attenborough talking about starfish. And a big shaggy dog of a wig.
Vulnicura, meaning ‘Cure for Wounds’ in Greek (vulnus meaning ‘wound’ plus cura meaning ‘cure’) was snap-released last week to the surprise of fans and industry alike following an apparent online leak. The album quickly became the number 1 most downloaded album on iTunes in more than 30 countries, including the UK.
No matter, it’s here now. It’s a wonderful return to what matters too; the music. Vulnicura is written during and after Björk’s break-up from artist Matthew Barney and is as close as she is ever going to get to the classic ‘break-up album.’ On her website, she states “first i was worried it would be too self indulgent but then i felt it might make it even more universal, and hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is : the wound and the healing of the wound. psychologically and physically.” With Vulnicura, she mainly succeeds.
This is nowhere more obvious than the opus (over 10 minutes long) ‘Black Lake,’ with its epic sweeping strings and painful lyrics, such as the impactive “You have nothing to give.” In fact, none of the nine songs here are short; only one is under the five minute mark. It’s an album to be played in full, whilst clutching a photo of love lost.
The opener ‘Stonemilker’ is probably the most typical of Björk and closely related to songs from Homogenic. ‘Family’ has some seriously creepy string parts, at times sounding like an old fashioned horror movie score, whilst ‘Mouth Maker’ has sounds seemingly borrowed from a sci-fi set. The album will take repeated listens, and is by no means an easy pill to swallow. No quick fix here.
Björk has reinvented herself, as you’d expect her to. She can’t take all the credit though, as some has to go to the team she has assembled. Antony Hegarty, once Antony and the Johnsons, now just Antony, appears on Atom Dance adding his surreal, multi tracked vocals to the mix. Bobby Krlic, better known as Haxan Cloak, mixed the album and his presence can be most felt on the discordant ‘Notget’ and explains Björk’s appearance at his show at ATP in Keflavík last summer. Finally, Venezuelan Alejandro Ghersi, who goes by Arca, co-produced the album. He has previously worked with Kanye West and FKA Twigs.
In conclusion, Björk fans will be delighted with Vulnicura. Some have predicted that the album will gain her many new fans. Personally, I doubt it will, not that she needs them anyway. Unless, of course, you have been through a heart wrenching, emotionally torrid breakdown of a relationship, in which case, Björk is here to help.
Edward Hancox - edhancox(at)live.co.uk
Edward Hancox lives in in the United Kingdom with his wife and two small, noisy children but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music—especially contemporary Icelandic music—is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for Iceland Review and in his debut book, Iceland, Defrosted. He does not consider himself an expert on anything.