Writing a good break-up album is its own art-form in a lot of ways. You either end up writing terribly cheesy rubbish or you end up creating a relatable piece of music that millions of people can use to either help them through a break-up or to use as a pool of darkness which they can dive into. The songs can be written so that they don’t sound particularly personal but will touch a lot of people with ease, or there’s the other side when the writer details every single thought they have during a break-up which is a lot more difficult to make sound compelling. On Bjork’s latest album she’s done the latter of the two.
‘Vulnicura’ is described by Bjork as being the detailing of the thoughts prior to a break-up, during a break-up, and after a break-up. It comes with a booklet that describes where on a timeline each of these are in terms of ‘2 Months Before’ the breakup or ‘2 Months After’. It’s the first time that we’ve really been let into the personal life of Bjork after she’s spent so long creating other worlds for us to dive into. On this record she sounds as though she’s delivering every single thought she has like a narrator; not expressing much emotion just simply telling us the facts even when they’re heartbreaking. On the opening song on the album she sings ‘Moments of clarity are so rare/ I must document this’ and ‘We must find our mutual coordinates‘ almost like a computer who must document every part of her life and coexist with another through agreements.
It’s strange how this form of lyricism works so well. By being so blunt about everything and telling it how it is she makes some heartbreaking statements. In the song ‘History Of Touches’ Bjork sings about how she wakes her partner up in the middle of the night to let him know how much she loves him, but has this overwhelming feeling that it’s the last time she will do so. She reminisces about all the good times they have had together and how it will all become merged into one big memory when it’s over with lyrics like ‘Every single touch/We ever touch each other/Every single fuck /We had together /Is in a wondrous time lapse’, since this song is set before the actual breakup it sounds like pure paranoia in her head more than anything else – she doesn’t want it to come to this.
Every single aspect of a breakup is detailed so well on here that it makes you wonder how devoted she is to her art because she must have been writing these songs as they were happening. The 10 minute ‘Black Lake’ is the most spiteful song on the album with her basically saying ‘How could you do this?’ to her ex, while the song after it details how she feels that her family has now died. As with real life it takes a long while before the healing process begins on this record (Vulnicura literally translates to ‘Healing of the wounds’), and even when it does it’s not the most ambitious of starts with it sounding more like she’s forcing herself out of the emotional pit she’s fallen into rather than climbing out with ease. It’s only in the 7th track on here that the healing process truly begins with the fantastic ‘Atom Dance’ which is the first song that goes slightly up tempo. This album is a long hard and gruelling process much like the actual process of breaking up a long-term relationship.
It’s not just the emotional side of this album that makes it this a difficult listen, but the way in which Bjork sings on here. It’s extremely difficult to actually pick out the melodies sometimes on this album because Bjork draws out every single word to the absolute limit in length to the point where you forget what the melody actually is. Not only that but like her previous album ‘Vespertine’ she’s using predominantly string sections throughout this album. With some help from the producer Arca there are also some distorted as hell drum beats and rhythm sections that go over the top of them so violently juxtaposing the sounds of anger and sorrow all at the same time. Bjork sometimes sings the exact same melody as the string sections almost like she’s sinking into the sadness like on the song ‘Black Lake’ and ‘Lionsong’ which can be extremely jarring at times, and even frustrating but worthwhile nonetheless.
‘Vulnicura’ isn’t an easy listen; sonically everything about it is absolutely haunted and cold, even when it’s strikingly beautiful. But it certainly is a successful break-up album, both simultaneously being the most simple in terms of song-writing and complex in turns of emotional impact. When releasing this album Bjork said ‘First I was worried it would be too self indulgent but then I felt it might make it even more universal. and hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound. Psychologically and physically. It has a stubborn clock attached to it’ there’s not much more than you can say about the album other than to tell her that everything she set out to do on this album – this album is an extremely well documented piece of art on how humanity copes with a break-up and documenting how someone can possibly get through it.
Best Tracks: Black Lake, Stonemilker, Atom Dance
(There are no available videos on YT of the songs from this album so BUY it, and here’s one of her old songs)