Vulnicura Strings ★★★★☆

the arts desk , 29 octobre 2015

Darkly intense textures of voice and strings repay close listening

For an album exploring the theme of heartbreak in wintry, coiling musical phrases, peppered with stark, fractured lyrics, the reception of Björk’s original Vulnicura was ever so slightly lukewarm. Her spacious and probing compositions were admired rather than adored, her analysis of breakup seeming to have a steely, cerebral edge. So it was a brave decision to adapt these songs for strings, an alteration that’s unlikely to make them any more accessible.
Losing the rhythmic texture offered by the percussion, which is only partially replaced by a chopping string pulse on pieces like “Notget”, has given the compositions a contemplative if rather meandering feel, and some of them sound as though they belong on a John Adams recording. “Mouth Mantra” has an especially operatic sound, with samples of Björk’s voice overlaid to sound like an operatic dialogue, over the strings’ rhythmic cycles.
Recording an album with strings used to be a popular entertainer’s ploy to touch up a threadbare artistic reputation with a lush veneer. Yet Björk is no doubt above generic distinctions, nor does she require any reputational repair work. The original feature of this album, then, is its exploration of string and vocal texture, from the quasi-operatic to the delicate balladry of “Stonemilker” or folkloric strangeness of “Notget”. There’s little melody, and the narrative is convoluted and bleak : many tracks, especially “Black Lake” (played on viola organista, an electronic, belt-driven string instrument) have passages of minimalistic stillness, and the force of emotion is the only thing carrying the song forward.
The break-up in question was a protracted and intense affair. On the quieter tracks, the lyrics are clearly enunciated, which adds to the strenuous and highly wrought character of this work. It’s not music to sing in the bath, or anywhere else apart from the therapist’s couch, and there’s little light relief. For all that, and the arguably limited dynamic range of a collection focused so closely on upper strings and Björk’s vocal register, this collection has a rare depth and fascination that can be found almost nowhere else.

par Matthew Wright publié dans the arts desk