REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Björk Returns Early With Raw & Emotional Vulnicura

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

Vulnicura opens with the stuttering line ‘Adjust the position’ sounding like a tired sexual order or a fragile survival instinct, and in a way this album is a reflection of both depleted states, as it chronicles the breakup of her relationship with artist Mathew Barney.  It also serves as an unintentional tip to the listener to settle in and expect a discomforting experience. This is music to stir the emotions.

Billed by Björk as ‘a complete heartbreak album’, the slow, heavy percussion and gut-wrenching strings of the opening track, ‘Stonemilker’, set the tone for the depth of decay and the endless loss of love that the album evokes so painfully unabashed. Another line from those first seven minutes, ‘Who is open?’, is a challenge to prove to Björk that love is more than just an excited heartbeat which fades to a distant echo.

Björk, however wounded and worn, is still as brave and open as ever, both musically and emotionally, on her ninth studio album.

Vulnicura was due for a release in March but due to a leak online Björk was forced to unveil it earlier than expected. Another betrayal, another reason for her to feel let down, used and merely fucked instead of loved. It’s interesting that in the artwork for the album Björk appears to have either a gaping wound or a giant vagina on her chest. Or is it both?

‘History of Touches’ is a bittersweet, haunting trip down a lost sexual memory lane. ‘Black Lake’ feels like sinking into, well, a black lake, where loneliness cloaks you like a suffocating body of regret, as Björk questions ‘Did I love you too much?’ The beats here become industrial and machine-like, thumping and crunching as synths build to an intense stare-down before Björk accuses ‘I did it for love,’ but ‘you betrayed your own heart’.

No one does personal skin-shedding quite like Björk. She has continually sought to expose her rawest observations and emotions in her work, and Vulnicura is no exception.

On this record she has taken painful experiences and memories and presented them as part creative musical expression and part confessional resentment. But there is acceptance of this resentment, as Björk demands in the jittery ‘Notget’, ‘Don’t remove my pain, it is my chance to heal.’ She views her wounds as necessary for her skin to grow back thicker and stronger.

‘Atom Dance’ feature’s Antony Hegarty’s (of Antony and the Johnsons) unique damaged-diva tones as backing vocals to Björk’s soaring calls, and also displays the greatest example of 24 year old co-producer Alejandro Ghersi’s, aka Venezuelan beatmaker Arca, eclectic and tangible, emotionally-charged beats. Album closer ‘Quicksand’ leaves the listener feeling awkwardly optimistic for Björk. We’ve tasted her heartbreak, witnessed her resentment, feared for her longing and finally watched her lift herself to step forward once more.

On Vulnicura, Björk both exposes and reclaims herself; a deep, personal work of art from a musical icon. A sad but beautiful album that requires repeated listens to take in the full journey.

To buy the album on iTunes click here.

Words by Lawrence Pearce