With Bjork’s last album, Biophilia, being her most atmospherical and otherworldly, Vulnicura finds her trying to wrap her imaginative brain around something even more complex: human emotions. After a recent divorce from her companion of nearly fifteen years and the father of her two children, Björk channels her inner thoughts and feelings about their split throughout Vulnicura. She jumps from feelings of disillusionment to anger to pity to self-doubt to rationalization. It’s a cacophony of everything she is feeling inside put out into the universe.
What’s interesting to see is both the similarities to the intergalactic Biophilia as well as the complete detachment from it. In one hand, Björk is tackling her inner turmoil and deep pangs in the same manner in which she approaches the complexities of the world. At times, they feel so distant, so deeply removed from us, that we cannot fully comprehend them. In the other hand, every lyric and every direct movement on Vulnicura is specifically about her relationship and where she is currently at emotionally. It’s brave, bold, and an extremely personal side of Björk that we haven’t really seen before. Ever since her early days as an artist, Björk has been obsessed with extremities, the unknown, or the explicitly complex, and here is no different; only now she is self-discovering and channeling her inner-workings as an artist.
On “Family,” Björk speaks of the death of her family and the tumbling of the family dynamics that she worked so hard to keep together. She’s desperately trying to retain some structure and some commonality to her life now that everything has changed. It’s like she’s trying to protect her child from seeing her parents fall out of love, but, at the same time, there’s no way to hide it. Björk feels powerless and unable to fix or change what has happened. The ending of the song spills into a stringed vortex, with a subtle reworking of Björk’s 1999 single “All Is Full of Love.” It’s a devastating, yet soft and grounded goodbye to the love they once shared.
“Stonemilker,” the album opener, shows Björk demanding respect and questioning her lover’s motives in their relationship. With “Notget,” Björk is trying to rationalize her pain and take comfort in knowing that she will get out of it if she fully allows herself to feel. On “History of Touches,” Björk is remembering her last sexual experience with her partner and knowing that they will never share that again. It’s a culminating sensation as well as one that doesn’t deeply pang her until later, when she wakes up in their bed alone.
Throughout Vulnicura, Björk’s voice is accompanied by strings and synths, and sometimes there is an overwhelming amount of lush, visceral sound that she almost has to fight against to be heard. The swarming melodies and instruments are given breath from co-producer Arca, who worked on Kanye West’s Yeezus and FKA twigs’ LP1. On a few tracks, Björk also collaborated with The Haxan Cloak, who provided additional production and mixing work. On “Atom Dance,” Björk is accompanied by Antony Hegarty, the inspirational Trans* singer, and composer from Antony and the Johnsons.
In “Atom Dance,” Bjork and Antony sing “No one is a lover alone / most hearts fear their own home.” Without her partner and other-half beside her, even her own heart feels misplaced. In the song, too, she sings of atoms and atmospheres, which is Björk trying to understand the human body and human experience in a global way, relating it to the workings of the earth. On “Mouth Mantra,” she seems to recognize some of the same comparisons. The short, pulsating electric beats give sound to internal synapses and moving atoms in the body. It’s as if Björk is creating a soundscape from the blood flow and mechanics that naturally exist inside of us.
With “Lionsong,” we hear Björk trying to search for some clarity and some other meaning behind her mixed emotions. “Once it was simple / one feeling at a time / it reach it’s peak, then transformed. / These ultra-complex feelings / I just don’t know how to handle them.” We hear her struggle and her discordance with who she is internally and what she is feeling. On the ten-minute gorgeous treasure that is “Black Lake,” we finally hear Björk breaking away from the self-deprecation and self-blame and her finally taking pride in ending the relationship. “I did it for love / I honored my feelings / you betrayed your own heart / corrupted that organ.”
Throughout Vulnicura, Björk puts her fears, her relationship issues, and her self-doubt all out on the table, and laminates each one with such precision and honesty. She ends her massively introspective album with “Quicksand,” an uncanny song that summarizes yet foregrounds her emotions and her deepest sorrow yet. She sings, “When I’m broken, I am whole / and when I’m whole, I’m broken.” The song ends with her pointing out her ex-lover’s flaws and what he has done to their family: “You take away our future / and my continuity and my daughter’s / and her daughters / and her daughters.” The album ends with Björk acknowledging that divorce within a family isn’t a one-time instance, but a divide that remains within the family for eternity. It’s forever shattered, but Björk will learn to thrive within the broken remnants of a lost love. It’s already true, because Vulnicura is quintessentially earnest, poignant, and a beautiful album in Björk’s timeless volumes of work.