To say Vulnicura is a happy album would be a lie. The album follows a story line about her breakup with fellow artist Matthew Barney. As the album paints the story, the separation was clearly not a happy one from her perspective. The first track portrays the beauty of their love, but quickly shows the downward spiral into sadness. Subsequent tracks speak toward fighting to keep her world intact, remembering loving embraces, falling into a black lake of despair, raising a family without the anchor of two parents, and questioning the relationship as a whole. Bjork has always displayed great emotion in her past music, but her vocal work and instrumentals really drag the listener into her overwhelming sadness and slight redemption.
The sound present on Vulnicura is fairly similar to Bjork’s late 90’s work. There are theatrical strings that make the situation feel even more gut-wrenching throughout, while clean electronics do the heavy lifting of setting the dire tone. Being produced by Bjork, Arca, and The Haxan Cloak is a real asset. Arca and Bjork do an amazing job at adding enough dance pop elements to keep each song light enough for enjoyable listens, while The Haxan Cloak adds a layer of darkness that can be expected after recent work with black metal project, The Body. The darkest moments are the most effective as a result, especially in the middle of Vulnicura.
There are very few moments on Vulnicura that feel unnecessary. “Stonemilker” kicks off the record in a hopeful fashion, utilizing majestic strings and lyrics portraying a beautiful launch of a relationship. “Lionsong” follows with themes of battle and a more dire instrumental, showing a fight to keep her significant other. “History of Touches” and “Black Lake” are the best sequences of the album though. The depressing nature on “History of Touches” speaks toward being with someone intimately one final time and remembering every sexual encounter before it. “Black Lake” displays the first time being alone, in which Bjork compares her soul to being small like a lake lost in the ocean. She ends the album with her most suffocating track though. “Quicksand” is the fastest track with an instrumental that traps it’s listener into her world, where she feels empty and broken but whole as she moves forward.
The only problems with Vulnicura as a whole are how badly the record beats a listener up and songs that carry on a bit too long at times. The album is a really sad and depressing ride, having very few moments of triumph and happiness. For the most part, you will be pulled into a bad breakup which is something most people have probably been through. The raw emotion is great but it could open up some old scars. Some songs carry on a bit too long as well, especially “Atom Dance”. This chamber pop track is the most fun song on Vulnicura, being light in theme and tone. However, the male vocals are too much to take. The vocal distortion kills the chamber pop tones, even if the song itself is well-written.
Bjork has proven that after more than 29 years in the music industry, she is still every bit as potent as she once was. The lyricism of the record is heart breaking, the instrumentals pack a tragic punch, and the overall themes feel real and meaningful. The running time can be a bit too long at times and the themes can become too much, but the ambition needs to be admired. Vulnicura is the first great album of 2014, and will be tough to take down.
3. History of Touches
4. Black Lake
7. Atom Dance
8. Mouth Mantra