The Telegraph

Vulnicura ★★★★☆

Björk’s ninth album charts a relationship break-up with emotional honesty and musical daring, says Helen Brown

“These abstract, complex feelings/ I just don’t know how to handle them” frets Björk on an album which details the break-up of her long-term relationship with artist Matthew Barney. But while the woman may have struggled with her emotions, the singer has a unique and unfettered musical and lyrical vocabulary with which to express them. And across nine, soul-scourging tracks she confidently deploys a blend of elegant, avant-garde string arrangements, electronic beats, ecclesiastical harmonies and deeply distorted vocals to explore the strange contraflows of love, sorrow, strength, fury, nostalgia, confusion, defiance, despair, hope, grief, pity and spite that she feels at being “shut out” by the father of her twelve-year-old daughter.

Rush released digitally two months ahead of schedule after being leaked online, if you break down the title into its components – vulnerability and cure – it is easy to imagine the album moving from one position to the other just as the music shifts stylistically. However, the lyrics don’t follow the path of a linear recovery, but rather suggest that any cure comes through the very act of exposing vulnerability. The cover features Björk dressed in a shiny black catsuit with a fleshy, pink slash down the centre of her chest making her look literally open hearted.

Perhaps the most accessibly melodic song on the album, opener Stonemilker (written nine months before the break-up) finds a woman asking, reasonably, for “emotional respect”. But on the second track, Lionsong (written four months later) she’s had it with reasonable. Smelling “declarations of solitude” she piles up tense vocals : “Make the joy peak/Humour peak/Frustration peak/Anything peak/For clarity !” Two months after the break-up and the sound is submerged, with crunchy beats like cracks forming at the base of massive icebergs. “Family was always our sacred mutual mission/which you abandoned” she howls into the gale of strings and electronic percussion, which suddenly drop away from her. The silence is more chilling than the din.

She trudges on through the funereal dirge of Family, the whirlwind of Notget, the philosophical Atom Dance joined by Antony Hegarty’s molten vocals and ends on the frantic beats of Quicksand in which she warns : “Every time you give up/you take away our future/and my continuity and my daughter’s/and her daughter’s ...”

After the wild beach party of 2007’s Volta and the shiny wonders of 2011’s Biophilia, Vulnicura is a windswept trek of a record. But one which gradually repays its difficulties with the raw exhilaration of survival.

Helen Brown

publié dans The Telegraph - 22.01.2015

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