Björk has been quite a polarizing figure throughout the years. I used to absolutely love her music in the early 2000’s. I thought Vespertine was a brilliant culmination in all the ideas she had been exploring.
It was an album with palpable emotional output. It pushed the boundaries of accompaniment with grandiose and experimental orchestration combined with electronica. The chord progressions were otherworldly in their strangeness. The melodies wound around in huge, tangled phrases.
Iceland is known for its musical creative geniuses, but this was something special even for Björk. Then came Medúlla. That album terrified me. It not only marked a change in direction to a more aggressive and wild sound, but the album only used voice. It was a wildly successful experiment in just what a human voice could achieve.
Björk basically fell off my radar at that point. I’d periodically notice something new come out, but it felt safe and sterile. I couldn’t get too excited about it. Sure it was more interesting and original than most of the other things released by mainstream artists, but she had also turned to a more pop sound. Her collaborations were still pretty great through these years (especially the one with The Dirty Projectors).
It just came to my attention, nearly a year after its release, that she came out with her ninth album Vulnicura. I decided to give it a chance, because I can’t quite shake how much her earlier stuff influenced me.
I’m glad I did. This album returns to the Vespertine sound in many of the aspects I listed above. The emotional content is back. This is essentially a break-up album, but not like any you’ve heard before. This goes right to heart with its poetic lyrics and winding, understated melodies.
There are a few standout tracks. “Black Lake” occurs as roughly the half-way point, and it really focuses the other songs on how painful the experience was. It is only string and voice for over 4 minutes. It then ramps up with sparse but hard hitting electronica to bring depth to the song:
The other highlight is “Atom Dance” where Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons makes an appearance. Their two voices create a huge mass of agony.
My one complaint is that some of the earlier songs use repetition effectively on the first few listens, but once you’ve heard it five or so times, it feels like too much.
Overall, this is an excellent album by Björk, and if you’ve been turned off by her lately, you might still want to give this one a try.