Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bjork - Vulnicura Review

There comes a time in nearly everyone's life that a tide-turning relational break-up occurs, and all that's left to console us is Pop music. Filled with sensationalized attacks on the now Ex, verbose ego-boosting empowerment, and hollowed claims of moving on, all told through catchy hooks and upbeat, sonically-pleasing sounds. On Bjork's latest there are no glimmers of hope, no extraneous exaggerations, only a painfully breathtaking account of one's prolonged demise into solitude. Ever since Bjork's rise to popularity in the 90's her lyrical content has been largely based around the concept of love. On her naive spectical 'It's Oh So Quiet' she whispers and hollers the ever-lasting feelings of falling in love, her short-sightedness in her perception of eternity was doomed to lead to Vulnicura. Someone so invested in love as a perpetual transcendence of humanity is bound to unravel once her timed blessing begins to lose his spark for her, all whilst a child hangs in the balance. Here, on her 9th LP, Bjork suffers far greater than she ever has, becoming, as she's so lost on her recent releases, entirely human once again, the emotional tug of us all pulling her back to a stark, bleak reality of life after lust. 

Accompanying each song written in the liner notes of Vulnicura is a date, an approximate time before or after the final dagger in the heart of the relationship. Feeling's aren't mutual amongst us all, no single song can represent a point in a relationship, other than ones created by those experiencing it. Bjork's addition of these time slates helps put us into her mind, her position, her feelings at any given time. Take the opener 'Stonemilker,' with some of the initial lines including "moments like these are so rare, I better document this," it seems as if the song kicks off Bjork's first realization of the trouble brewing ahead. "Who is open chested, and who has coagulated" she sings with a battered voice, attempting to echo out her feelings, only to be heard by no one. This bare moment of self-reflection and outward expression poise Bjork in a spot capable of telling a story whilst also living it. Much of the album sees the Icelandic singer in this light, willing to tell all, enduring the torment further as she encapsulates her album around it. Nothing here would sound forced in a private diary, as one would recounting each day passing slowly losing hope of things getting better, the difference remaining that Bjork bares it all.

As opposed to the bevy of break-up songs and albums littering the landscape Vulnicura looks inward rather than expanding outwards. The boisterous claims, the one-upmanship, the "it was their fault" lingo isn't present, but rather the space is filled with regret, anguish, dealings with the child, and yes, moments of hatred. Vulnicura is a break-up album for the mature couples long into their quarry, sunken lives intertwined, unraveling at the seams with the pieces still forcibly attached. On the album's most expressionistic track, 'Family,' we see Bjork pondering the existence of a mourning site for the death of her family, told through the lingering child caught in the balance. No one died but all three feel detached. The brutal bass rattles that dictate the first half pound through Bjork's emotional state, a hollow place devoid of love, where death remains a constant, a stark contrast to her previous works, an evolution in not just sound but life. During the transfer in halves on the track a parted string section arrives, uncoordinated, lost, and fighting over itself, like a family on the brink of collapse. This dichotomy in sound is found through much of Vulnicura as a placeholder for the relationship itself.

Never one for simplicity, Bjork has always incorporated a battle between two opposing sounds in her music, namely classical instrumentation and electronic trip-hop. While on previous releases these moments have been separated, here they're pitted against one another, battling for supremacy over the dominating background, just like the couple's demise. This is seen on the centerpiece 'Black Lake,' a 10-minute breakdown of Bjork's previously composed emotions resulting in a collection of visceral intimacy. It's a haunting expose into a cracked heart as looping, serene harps lose way to rampid, thundering stomps of bass. The production style featured on Vulnicura has splotches of influence doting across Bjork's discography, one highly-influential in and of itself. It's here that we see Bjork coming off as a more heart-broken, grief-ridden FKA Twigs, found most easily on 'Lionsong,' whereas the new up-and-comer has taken cues from Bjork's past, down to their laced producer, Arca. There's even times, like on 'Notget,' where Vulnicura comes off like Massive Attack's latest album Heligoland in terms of glitchy, non-conformist carnival tunes. For a Bjork record though, the sound is a bit too narrow throughout, leading to eventual droughts of repetition. 

Vulnicura is Bjork's most consistent, well-thought of effort in nearly a decade, a blatant testament to the effect real life pitfalls have on musical endeavors. Her vocal range plays well into the endless strain, from 'Mouth Mantra's' sadistic reservation, "my throat was stuffed, my mouth was sewn up, banned from making noise, I was not heard," to the soaring, revitalizing hope on the closer 'Quicksand,' Bjork is always able to manipulate her voice to minute details as she catelloges through the various states of coping. Some songs here do overstay their welcome, with seven of the nine exceeding six minutes, but the droning echo of that longing feeling would never exist if it weren't for the instilled dread. Vulnicura is no Post or Homogenic, and it was never meant to be, for where those albums excel in creativity, her latest prospers off the lack of it, or in better words, it discusses a universally shared event, told millions of times, but with a knack of the subconscious emotional state to set it apart. It's a break-up album clouded with the things many others choose to forget.

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