The Good: Impressive vocal range, A few interesting musical experiments, One or two lines
The Bad: Incongruent music/lyrics, Often indecipherable, Vague melodies
The Basics: Bjork continues her experimental career on Vulnicura, an artistic and utterly forgettable album.
Recently, I went on a short (for me) car trip and over the ten hours one way and eight hours the other, I had a chance to listen to a fraction of my musical library. I realized just how much I have been missing music in my life. Returning home, that was lessened some by the fact that my wife has had the Hamilton Soundtrack playing almost daily, but I figured it was time for me to make time for listening to and reviewing music again. Today, that takes the form of trying once again to get into the music of Bjork. For that, I went to her latest album, Vulnicura.
Vulnicura is yet another album by Icelandic artist Bjork and it follows in her long history of creating ambient electronic and string-driven music that is paired with her lilting vocals . . . and creates an entirely forgettable final product. Indeed, in my many travels and musical discussions, I've never actually heard anyone say "You really need to listen to this Bjork album!" At best, there are songs by Bjork some fans might want others to hear, but Vulnicura does not really have a single and I suspect its overwhelmingly somnambulant quality is enough to make even the most loyal Bjork fan into a narcoleptic.
With only nine songs, clocking out at 58:36, Vulnicura is short, but features well-developed musical pieces. The entire album is the creative vision of Bjork. Bjork wrote or co-wrote all nine songs, provides all of the lead vocals, was responsible for programming and produced or co-produced each track on the album. While Bjork arranged the strings, she is not credited with playing any instruments on Vulnicura, though she is credited as a co-producer for the album. As with most of Bjork's works, it is hard to deny that this is the musical vision the artist intended.
Unfortunately, Vulnicura is musically light to the point of being insubstantial. The songs have very little in the way of memorable melodies or harmonies. Instead, the string instruments back up electronic elements. After listening to the album on heavy replay for a day, I am thoroughly convinced that one could play any of these songs for me again and I would not recognize it by the tune. The songs on Vulnicura do not capture the ear or the imagination; they are vague backings to the usual murky vocals of Bjork.
Bjork has an impressive voice on Vulnicura. Bjork has a great soprano voice, which she utilizes well on Vulnicura, at least as an intellectual exercise. As with many Bjork albums, Bjork's vocals are aesthetically-pleasing, but often inarticulate. Bjork mumbles and produces musical elements to match her vocals in such a way that they blend and overwhelm her words. As a result, about one in every five works Bjork sings on Vulnicura are comprehensible.
Lyrically, Vulnicura is mostly about relationships, both romantic and familial. Bjork does have something to say with her lines "I wake you up / In the middle of the night / To express my love for you / Stroke your skin and feel you / Naked I can feel all of you / At the same moment" ("History Of Touches"). If only the music and the lyrics were remotely congruent, "History Of Touches" could have been one of Bjork's best songs!
Bjork uses her voice to resonate a sense of loss on "Quicksand." When Bjork sings "When I'm broken I am whole / And when I'm whole I'm broken / Our mother's philosophy / It feels like quicksand / And if she sinks / I'm going down with her / Locate her black lake / The steam from this pit" ("Quicksand"), it is hard not to feel like one is spinning out of control.
Not all of Bjork's lines - whether they can be understood or not - are winners, though. "Notget" becomes unfortunately fluffy and cliche. Even Bjork cannot make credible the long-overused sentiments like "You doubted the light / And the shelter it can give / For in love we are immortal / Eternal and safe from death / If I regret us / I'm denying my soul to grow / Don't remove my pain / It is my chance to heal" ("Notget").
Ultimately, Vulnicura is not the worst of Bjork, but it is not an album one is likely to want to sit down and get immersed in. It is an interesting-enough creative exercise, but a forgettable musical work. The best song is "History Of Touches" (though the album opens interestingly enough with "Stonemilker"); the rest of the songs are pretty unremarkable.
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© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.