Monday, February 2, 2015

Allyson Dwyer's (Continued) Take on Björk's Vulnicura, 2015

Guest Album Review

When I saw that Vulnicura had been released, I immediately turned to Allyson Dwyer for a review. I know her to be a Björk super-fan, and I was sure she'd been listening to the record since 12:00 AM on the date of its release. She'd already committed, though, to doing a review for Speak Into My Good Eye. You should check that one out before reading any further.

Allyson's love for Björk knows no bounds, however. It could not possibly be contained by a single review; so, to my surprise, she submitted something here as well. Allyson just had that much to say. After you've finished up over at SIMGE, take a look at her continued take on the latest from Björk.

Björk, Vulnicura, 2015

by Allyson Dwyer

Last week, my 2015 got just so much better when it was announced that Björk was releasing her new album, Vulnicura, a whole two months early. And in the week that I have had Vulnicura, it has not left my ears for very long, save for the moments when I decide to take a jump over to my all-time favorite album, of all time and of all wintery-days, Björk's Vespertine.

The premature release has led to a lot of my own personal comparisons between Vulnicura and Vespertine and the fact that both revolve around a central relationship. Vespertine, which was made a little over ten years ago, is an an album that experimented in microbeats and quiet compositions to encapsulate the intimacy of a budding new relationship and the creation of a new home. That very same relationship is the subject of Vulnicura, but it's about the ending this time and the ways in which Björk tries to give texture to many the shades of pain she experiences from such a wound.

The album gives these textures so wholly that, at times, it is truly hard to experience. For me, so much of this pain is experienced by just remembering the ecstatic and contemplative love of Vespertine. Where Vespertine's “Cocoon” is a blissful ballad about a relationship's consummation; Vulnicura's “History of Touches” is the antithesis: a knowing moment in which Björk has joyless sex and looks back on a time when such moments had a different tone to them (“every single fuck we had together / is in a wondrous time lapse / with us here at this moment”).

In the build-up to this album, many people were expecting a return to the purely-poppy side of Björk, especially considering the announcement of producer Arca, who previously had worked on Kanye West's Yeezus and my personal favorite from 2014, FKA twig's LP1. I was even pulled into the lure of thinking that Björk's vocals on top of the sounds of something like LP1 would be music heaven. But what I found instead was something so much more rewarding: an confessional, heart-exposing experimental pop album that is purely Björk's vision. The producers on hand only enhance what is ultimately Björk's work.

The ways in which she has surprised me on Vulnicura are moving, cathartic and rewarding; and in each listen, I am finding something new. I haven't felt this much joy of “living” in an album since Joanna Newsom's Ys (okay, and Have One On Me which was definitely a Joanna Newsom break-up album). Save for the first two tracks, Vulnicura is without many traditional song structures, and rather functions through melodic lines and instrumentation. Björk finds her way through her heartbreak by playing around with sounds and structures. When concise words aren't enough, she represents the complexity with the absence of words and sometimes even a lack of music entirely.

The biggest standout track to me, and the heart of Vulnicura, is “Family” (“Is there a place where I can pay respects for the death of my family?”). I pretty much cry and/or tear up every time I listen to this track. I can't relate to the experience of watching your family fall apart (well maybe not from the perspective of a matriarch), but the music itself is like nothing I have ever heard. Literally, the sound itself moves me and says all that is needed for me to understand what she means.

So does Vulnicura change my Vespertine experience? Absolutely not. No. I am building a new experience, a Vulnicura one. I am excited that it is 2015, that 2015 began with this masterful work, and that I will be listening to it, studying it, and finding new sounds within it as I continue to grow with it. As part of Björk's discography, this will be a highly memorable one that people will be talking about for years. I will too.

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