Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk Guðmundsdóttir, or Björk for those not too versed in North-Germanic naming conventions, took matters into her own hands after an early leak of her ninth studio album hit the internet. Vulnicura was made available on January 20th, two months prior to the official release date, and it means ‘cure for wounds’. Featuring Björk front and center with a gaping tear in the center of her torso, something seems unnerving, unsettling, yet hauntingly beautiful. Posting to her official Facebook page she declares, “Hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound. Psychologically and physically. It has a stubborn clock attached to it. There is a way out.”
The sudden drop, the imagery, the lyricism, the production, all speak to the urgency of the music; this is something she deeply needs to get off her chest.
A breakup album through and through, Björk describes the songwriting as ‘traditional’ in comparison to the more abstract themes present in her previous work. What we have here is incredibly straightforward, laying out the process and timeline of heartbreak. The record follows a chronological sequence of events through two thirds of the album, all outlined in the accompanying booklet, circumstances leading up to her separation and the months of postmortem. This creates context and helps frame both her mindset and ideas, making the content that much more meaningful.
Take a track like ‘Lionsong’ and factor the thought that it was composed five months before their split. The lyrics are a painfully sobering depiction of cold apathy, perhaps even resentment, beating human connection until its dead and the bleak hope that maybe things will change before its too late.
The sequence in which the album is organized isn’t so much instructional, but more a tool to help the listener empathize, ultimately accumulating into what should be a reparative experience.
If the intricacies of Björk’s songwriting are the backbone of Vulnicura, then her ear for arrangement are what fleshes it out. Always acclaimed for her unique ability to bend genres, this is no exception. The strings, the vocalization, space, and tone, all gel into some of the more interesting experimental pop compositions. Tracks like Black Lake, Family, Mouth Mantra, and Quicksand, all reverberate with her talent for multi-instrumentation; taking on different layers of detail.
Co-produced by Arca and The Haxan Cloak, the album pulsates with the deep rhythms and dark ambience they’ve become known for. The bleakness serves to accentuate the emotion but it never overshadows, it’s an interesting counterpoint to moments that fall in the latter half of the album, portraying a stronger more empowered woman.
Somber but ultimately encouraging, Vulnicura is a testament to the restorative power that music can have on a broken heart. Whether you’re listening to Fiona Apple or Sufjan Stevens, there’s something incredibly cathartic about suffering through life with someone else. The fact that the album seemingly materialized out of nowhere speaks somewhat to the suddenness of love. We can’t control everything, but we can choose how we react. Björk proves that it takes time, but in the end, everything will be alright.
Vulnicura is an emotional wringer; don’t expect to leave unscathed, but expect to leave all the more powerful.