Originally scheduled to coincide with her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in March, the release of Björk’s ninth studio effort, Vulnicura, was brought forward by two months after the Icelandic star fell victim to the dreaded online leak.
Considering the follow-up to 2011’s multimedia project Biophilia is a self-described “complete heartbreak album” inspired by the breakdown of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, such behind-the-scenes turbulence seems rather fitting.
Indeed, eschewing the global concerns that have dominated her recent work, Vulnicura is instead one of the 49-year-old’s most raw, direct and personal records to date, addressing themes of denial, grief, anger and despair over nine shape-shifting soundscapes co-produced with Venezuelan beatmaker Arca (Kanye West, FKA Twigs) and British doom merchant The Haxan Cloak.
Björk’s confessional approach can often make for an uncomfortable listen, particularly on the more abrasive second half where fractured rhythms collide with discordant horror movie strings (“Family”) and cathartic cries battle are heard over jabbing synths and galloping percussion (“Notget”) or warped strings and space-age bleeps (“Mouth Mantra”).
Those still valiantly hoping for a return to the more accessible and melodic fare of Björk’s mid-90s commercial peak therefore will once again be largely disappointed, but there are still a handful of times when she throws a nod to the less challenging parts of her back catalogue.
Opener “Stonemilker” is a gorgeous emotionally-charged blend of dramatic orchestration and spacious beats which hark back to the neo-classical leanings of arguably Björk’s finest moment, Homogenic. “Lionsong” opens with the same kind of a cappella melodies that defined Medulla, and when you get past the first nightmarish four minutes of “Atom Dance,” you’re rewarded with a beautiful skittering electro-ballad featuring the mesmerising tones of Volta regular Antony Hegarty.
Björk’s Vulnicura might not possess the multimedia aspects of its predecessor, but with its soul-baring lyrics and rich dramatic production, it’s arguably just as an immersive experience.