NEW ALBUM: Björk – Vulnicura
Björk is arguably one of the greatest contemporary artists, but too me, for the last decade or so, it felt what she wanted was almost too much for what is still at the core of her expression: the music. In the 90s she was a mostly electronic musician, but with her 2004 album Medulla she wanted to move on to new musical worlds from there and used almost exclusively human voices. I tried hard to love that record, but I just could not get warm with vocal acrobatics and human beatboxes. From that point my love for Björk has somewhat faded: her previous effort, Biophilia appeared to be more an global art installation than an actual record and I’m not sure if I’ve ever listened to it in full when it came out.
But then I read an interview which convinced me that she is not at all the mad genius I believed her to have become. So I bought her album on iTunes without having heard a note of it and vowed to decipher it, whatever it takes.
On first listen it is yet another exploration of a new musical landscape. After the voices of Medulla, the brass on Volta and the fantasy instruments on Biophilia, she now employs a acoustic string orchestra (although one could argue that it is also a throwback to her 90s work, where she often used strings). Combined with synthetic beats and her voice, that is pretty much the fabric of the album throughout its nine songs. Nine mostly overlong songs: six clock in over six minutes, three of them even over eight.
That doesn’t make an easy listening: with every new album Björk’s songs seem to grow more complex and less accessible. Listening multiple times is advised: there’s little or no structure in the songs and even the beats compose themselves to a full rhythm only on occasion. Everything feels like an effort, her singing, the strings and the beat. In one song, Black Lake, the music collapses seven times to just a drone, lasting for up to half a minute, as if everybody had to catch their breaths before the can move on. Family stops in the middle and transforms into an new song before it finds its way back to something that resembles the original theme.
But it works. Not as a background soundtrack, but as an glimpse into Björk’s world at a time that has been undoubtly hard and challenging for her. A world that opens itelf up with careful listen, on good headphones, when you follow the lyrics and complicated melodies. Then a song like Black Lake becomes an epic symphony (it is used as the soundtrack for Björk’s upcoming MoMA retrospective) and every drop makes you hold your breath.