It was an early internet leak that forced Bjork to release her new album Vulnicura two months early, but the sudden drop of the album feels eerily fitting. After all, the record is itself a left-turn of sorts for the singer: it’s not only a return to her early style, but a surprisingly intimate glimpse at the inner life of a guarded artist. It also happens to be one of her best releases to date.
Although Vulnicura was inspired by the end of a relationship, calling the work a break up album would be reductive. It may have been inspired by the gaping hole that a long term romance can leave behind when it withers and dies, but it ultimately becomes about much more than that, and songs like album opener Stonemilker and the stunningly beautiful History of Touches have a scope that aims to encompass the human heart as a whole. These are songs elevated to a powerful, grand plane by the force of a woman expressing herself with everything she has, in the best way she knows.
Bjork’s voice has never sounded better. The slightly airy vocal delivery displayed on her last two albums has been traded in for a heartfelt, anguished performance that consistently impresses. The vocal highpoint of the album is the layered Family, but in all honesty, every single track of the album ebbs with the dark beauty of the singer’s voice.
The tone of the album is sustained, but never so narrow or rigid as to not allow some sonic surprises: the electronic instrumentation of Notget is fractured in a deeply moving way, and an impressive contrast to the smooth, silky pain of songs like Mouth Mantra or Lionsong.
Just as impressively, Bjork has a powerful understanding of how to utilize a guest performer, and Antony Hegarty’s vocal delivery on Atom Dance is suitably lush without ever overshadowing Bjork’s own work. As a result, the song sounds like two performers coming together for a single purpose, rather than a pair of musicians attempting to one up each other, or a distraction from the album’s true emotive purpose.
Of them all however, it was the ten minute plus Black Lake that moved me the most: indeed, moved me to tears. In a single track, Bjork charts not only the bloom and the blight of a relationship, but manages to touch on something innately human. With a disarming subtlety, Bjork has transformed the trademarks of her style into something that can be universally felt.
Most importantly, the album contains a narrative, but it’s not a self-contained one. The story here is the emotional ebbs and flows of the listener; of you. Although the starting point might have been Bjork’s own journey, she explores pain and the hopeless hope in a way that ultimately connects with us all.
In short, Vulnicura is not only for you. It’s about you too.