The Guardian

Björk – Vulnicura first-listen review : the inky, jet-black flipside to Vespertine

Björk’s new album – a surprise iTunes release on Tuesday – makes no concessions to pop immediacy, and is all the better for it

In many ways Björk’s ninth studio album Vulnicura – released on iTunes last night after it leaked over the weekend, a full two months ahead of schedule – can be read as the companion piece to 2001’s Vespertine. Written and recorded in the first flushes of new love, Vespertine’s honest, sensual and breathless lyricism is mirrored by a similar candour on Vulnicura. This time the dewy, sleepy-eyed lovemaking delicately described in the former’s Cocoon has been replaced by the latter’s History of Touches, in which “fucks” are now stored as memories and nothing more. Billed by Björk herself as “a complete heartbreak album”, for the most part Vulnicura is the inky, jet-black flipside to Vespertine’s new hope, detailing the slow decay of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney.

Co-produced by experimental Venezuelan beatmaker Arca and the Haxan Cloak, the album’s plotted like a sort of twisted version of Bridget Jones’s Diary. So the string-drenched, Homogenicesque opener Stonemilker, we’re told in the liner notes, is about the period nine months before the breakup, its lyrics seemingly showing a person in denial as the wheels slowly fall off. One song and four months later on Lionsong we’re headed further into the abyss, with a creepily filtered Björk singing “maybe he will come out of this loving me, maybe he won’t” as opulent strings seem to mock her misguided optimism. Four songs in and we’re post-break up, the slowly evolving, cavernously emotional highlight Black Lake flitting between strings that sound like they’re dying and big, heartbeatesque beats. In amongst it all Björk shifts from victim (“Did I love you too much, devotion bent me broken”), to wounded mother (“Family was always our sacred mutual mission, which you abandoned”), to the song’s final third in which she finds defiance : “I am a glowing shiny rocket returning home, as I enter the atmosphere I burn off layer by layer.”

It’s a breathtaking opening, rich with sonic and lyrical detail, Arca’s twitching beats complementing and coalescing with the dramatic string arrangements. As the timescale moves into post-breakup anger, however, the songs become harder to digest. Family opens with the line “Is there a place where I can pay respects for the death of my family ?” and doesn’t get much cheerier, while Notget – all metallic marching beats and experimental time signatures – is as awkward as the title suggests. It does however seem to offer catharsis in the terrifying growl of the last line “Love will keep us safe from death”, with the following Atom Dance – the first song with no time stamp – almost jaunty by comparison, Björk’s soaring vocals skipping around those of regular collaborator Antony Hegarty.

For the final three songs the album feels less inward-looking, like the light at the end of a very long, constantly twisting tunnel. The clues to this thematic duality, as ever with a Björk album, lie in the artwork. Wide-eyed and naïve on the cover of Debut, heroic and warrior-like on Homogenic and a mother earth figure on 2011’s disappointing Biophilia, here Björk is trussed up in black, hands open wide, her chest carved open (“Who is open chested ?” she asks on Stonemilker). The character represents the emotional bloodletting of the album’s first two-thirds, but is mirrored later on by an image of Björk clamping her hands over her chest wound, defiantly owning, even protecting, the emotional turmoil (“If I regret us I’m denying my soul to grow, don’t remove my pain it is my chance to heal,” she sings on Notget).

Every Björk album comes with initial rumours of a return to the pop immediacy of Debut and Post, and with both Volta and Biophilia it felt like there had been genuine attempts to do just that. Vulnicura – a made-up word that seems to be a strange portmanteau of vulnerable and cure – makes no such concessions and is all the better for it. In switching the focus back to herself after the global concerns of her last two albums, Björk’s created a wounded, raw and, most importantly, human album and one that feels like her most vital since 2001.

Michael Cragg

publié dans The Guardian - 21.01.2015

En lien avec...

 
 

Articles de la même année

 

2015

date
publication
titre
20.01.2015
Slant Magazine
20.01.2015
Press play ok
21.01.2015
Les Inrockuptibles n°999
22.01.2015
The Telegraph
22.01.2015
The Independent
22.01.2015
The New York Times
22.01.2015
Irish times
22.01.2015
TimeOut
22.01.2015
Pitchfork
22.01.2015
LA Times
22.01.2015
Standard
22.01.2015
The Quietus
22.01.2015
Clashmusic
22.01.2015
The Guardian
22.01.2015
NME
22.01.2015
Los Angeles Times
22.01.2015
The Atlantic
23.01.2015
Pitchfork
23.01.2015
musicOMH
23.01.2015
The Chicago Tribune
23.01.2015
Rolling Stone
23.01.2015
The New York Times
24.01.2015
ABC News
25.01.2015
lapresse.ca
26.01.2015
Slate
29.01.2015
Resident Advisor
30.01.2015
The New York Times
02.02.2015
thecreatorsproject.vice.com
02.02.2015
factmag.com
06.02.2015
The Reykjavik Grapevine
15.02.2015
The Guardian
19.02.2015
The gentlewoman
01.03.2015
Vogue Paris
01.03.2015
Monopol
03.03.2015
Dazed Digital, 2015
06.03.2015
Irish Times
09.03.2015
The New Yorker
12.03.2015
The Guardian
12.03.2015
Spex Magazine
15.03.2015
framestore.com
16.03.2015
Le Monde
16.03.2015
Juxtapoz
18.03.2015
Les Inrockuptibles n°1007
10.06.2015
Dazed & Confused, 2015
21.07.2015
Paris Match
29.10.2015
the arts desk
05.11.2015
musicOMH
09.11.2015
sinfinimusic.com
29.11.2015
Sunday Times Style