The adult growing pains of separation are the tortured soul and broken heart behind Björk‘s latest album, Vulnicura. Detailing her split from artist Matthew Barney, Björk has self-described Vulnicura as a “relationship album,” and her most personal effort yet. Vulnicura is also a companion piece to her previous album, Vespertine, which, conversely, is a sexually explicit expression of her then new relationship with Barney.
All tracks on Vulnicura, excluding the final three, are given a placement in the timeline of Björk’s separation, ranging from 9 months before to 11 months after. For those who have braved the weary path of divorce, the album is bound to hit close to home.
Opening track, Stonemilker (9 months before), is Björk at her most transcendent since Joga. Against gorgeous tones of swelling strings, she describes the openness of communication necessary for a successful partnership, “Who is open chested/and who has coagulated?/Who can share and/who has shot down the chances?”
Black Lake (2 months after) is an epic 10 minute ode to the broken-hearted and divorced. Mirroring the album cover of the disemboweled singer/songwriter, she sings, “I am one wound/My pulsating body/Suffering being.” In Björk’s talented hands, the angst doesn’t sound juvenile. It is unrestrained, genuine heartbreak.
In Family (6 months after), Björk is in the heart of grief, as she compares her divorce to a funeral. The song properly dictates one of the most harrowing parts of divorce, the children caught in between, “There is the mother and child/Then there is the father and the child/But no man and a woman/No triangle of love.”
There is, however, light at the end of this journey of heartache and sadness. The sound of metallic marching pushes Notget (11 months after) forward as Björk reaches the final destination of any sorrow, acceptance. It is better to have loved and lost, Björk concludes, as she recognizes, “If I regret us/I’m denying my soul to grow/Don’t remove my pain/It is my chance to heal.” There is maturation here. She shows compassion for Barney, who is also going through a divorce. “We carry the same wound/But have different cures/Similar injuries/But opposite remedies.” There is no more apt description for empathy. If there is any love in divorce, it is in the shared wound.
There is a maternal nature about the album. Coming from Björk’s perspective, Barney is given little redemption in her lyrics (excluding Notget,), but this is to be expected of an album so near to her misery. Like any great art surrounding an artist’s own agony, Vulnicura provides as much a release for Björk as it does for her listeners.
Lyricism aside, the sonic quality of Björk’s microbeats and string accompaniments prove, yet again, that she is on top of her game. Vulnicura may very well become the paragon for all break up albums to live up to, setting a high standard for the music of 2015.