AMN Reviews: Björk – Vulnicura (2015; One Little Indian)

Björk_-_Vulnicura_(Official_Album_Cover)Biophilia was the conceptual heaven of Björk, a sound world about nature through multimedia art.  But Vulnicura has a musical maturity that I was waiting for in her music, far more important than the decorative multimedia that too many musicians insist on today.

It is also a huge break emotionally from her usual optimism and desire to scream out life for most listeners. She delivers her most boundless music. The best part is the way she arranges her album like an hour-long composition, nothing I would be able to say about any of her previous albums. Even the conceptually tight Medùlla (that was still my favourite before this one) felt like a collection of individual experiments, not without nostalgic come backs to her dance years and lyrically varied into different subjects.

The music always follows her emotional state, the ending of her 15-year-long relationship with New York artist Matthew Barney. First serene and beautiful, the perfect opening Stone Milket only needs a few chords to get you straight into her world.  She is obviously aiming at the emotional landscapes of Homogenic, but with far more variations and opened melodic lines, like Vivaldi mixed Aphex Twin‘s melodic irregularities of his best years.  Björk has a precious ear for a tender melodism of her own kind with the strings instruments in particular, I always thought.  But nothing like this came our way since 2001`s Vespertine and even there, it was in part done by an arranger that she probably did not need.

Lion song is the most obvious pop song on Vulnicura, taking from Indian music and making it the best fit for an elegant electronic percussion programming, without pushing this aspect all of the times. I am one to believe that Björk can manage as great without the electronic elements, allowing herself the time space to build her arrangements more, but anything electronic on Vulnicura feels way more natural than on Biophilia (studio album at least) and active, much less in loop.

Black Lake already feels different, a lot more like Arvo Pärt that she is resembling musically with horn arrangements on Volta (Pneumonia as something of Vulnicura, like a preparation for it). 10 minutes and never any moment does the song feels like it is already over. Björk never was this melancholic before, but instead of crushing her best strengths, the dark feelings are allowing her to push herself further into unique expression, like for any other great artist.

There are not a lot of invented instruments on Vulnicura, but the music is far more alien and surprising on repeated listening than on Biophilia, which like Volta, felt to me a bit like something made for a limited attention span audience, in a vulgarizer fashion. I always loved vulgarizers, still do, but for me, artistically, there is something important that got stuck since Medùlla. Vulnicura is what I wanted to hear from her, a musical strengh that does not need any other concept than a personal one.

Starting from Family to the end of the album, there is the most original and organic electronic-acoustic music Björk ever created. Melodies are still there, easy to grab, but appear often like sound textures just as well and the structures are free-for-all, linear and non-linear, traditional (Indian and Chinese at the same time on Not Get) and musique concrete flow into sound painting, vocal duet of the atom with Anthony, far more daring than her previous work with him. On Atom Dance, his voice comes out of nowhere like an harmonic arrangement made out of his several inner voices while the strings change direction their own independent way, and Björk slowly makes this an evolved child from Medùlla‘s vocal schizophrenia, and the organic-vocader twin started out on the most abstract songs from Biophilia.

Mouth Mantra strongly evocates Arvo Pärt’s Orient & Occident, one of my favourite works in the classical realm. The electronic mixture is just as exciting, splendid and natural, always in touch with the strings and totally out of touch as well. Perhaps because Björk worked with an electronic producer first (Arca who knows her music well), like she did by instinct in her initial years, the electronic realm appears more in shape here than ever before. The complexities of the drums and sounds are left in place, not added over after the most creative energy is exhausted.

Her singing here, more subtle, less volcano-like, often evolves slowly through her new progressive structures.  These are, during the confusing second half, in the focus on vocals as sound textures as well as melodic instruments. The closer Quicksand is a good example of this weird vocal singing that comments on itself until a new self is formed (“When she is broken, she is whole and when she is whole, she is broken”). It is surrounded by strings instruments that have lost most of their original sound, but remain rich, every part of this still simple song brings more perspective instead of pondering in obligation a few basic chords on the other parts like on Biophilia and Volta.

Her masterpiece so far.
Vincent Bergeron (2015.01.20)

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