I meant for this to be a part of a "what I'm listening to this week" post, but I had more to say than I thought.
Björk – Vulnicura
The latest album put out by Björk is a heartbreak album, and I'm not sure she knows how to feel about that. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, she seems to be self conscious about the cliché aspect of writing an album with such familiar emotional content, but at the same time, it's obvious the material is near and dear to her, as her family has been recently upended by divorce. Personally, I don't think Björk needs to feel self conscious – perhaps this isn't an album about the cosmos, as her last one was, or about much of her other more detached material, but there is nothing cliché about this work. Björk adds her personal spin over the top of a small string orchestra, and I have to say I was mildly surprised at the youthfulness heard in her voice even at the no-longer-tender age of 49. She sounds essentially the same in voice as she did on albums that are now almost twenty years old.
This music is fantastic. I love most everything I've heard form Björk, and as she gets older she's still innovating and evolving with each release. She's a master of sounds – knowing exactly how to combine beats and electronics with the familiar acoustic sound of the strings, and when to affect her voice in a certain way to draw out additional feeling, or how she extract the percussive qualities of the words themselves. “Stonemilker,” the album's first track, is probably my favorite. It sets a mood – reflective, yearningly sad. Much of the lyrical material of the rest of the album is along the same lines, but Björk has done the music in such a way that we are not banged over the head with a particular feeling – the feelings that she has inside of her are complex and evolving, perfectly reflected in a line from the album's closer, “Quicksand”: “When I'm broken I am whole/When I'm whole I am broken.”
The pacing of the album is also outstanding. The greatest example, “Black Lake,” starts out at as a slow, melancholy dirge, and through a series of almost uncomfortably long pedal tones, it moves forward with more and more vigor. One might expect an album full of sad songs about lost love to be ballad heavy, but that wouldn't be her style. There is an incredible amount of variety here, even within the limits of the strings and particular emotions. One of my other favorite tracks, “Family,” features an alarmingly beautiful ending after a long, eerie, slow burn and a pointilistic middle section.
I've listened to this album four or five times in the last few days, and I have to say, I think it's seriously a masterpiece. It might be my favorite Björk album. It's a great accomplishment in the face of personal torment. Certainly, she continues to cement herself as one of the genuine geniuses of pop music. 4 and a half out of 5 stars.