Bjork’s latest and ninth album is a record of her divorce from husband Matthew Barney, and the songs contained within it are unflinchingly vulnerable and wrought with heartache. It’s a side we’re not used to seeing from the individual who once cut such a ferocious, imposing figure on albums like Post and Homogenic. Sonically, however, we’re in more familiar territory. Vulnicura contains the same mix of icy electronics and expressive strings that made Homogenic so singular, but the relatively straight-forward pop structures of that album are pulled apart and sent spinning into orbit as sprawling, six to ten minute pieces.
The interplay of these two separate but harmonizing elements neatly reflects the album’s lyrical themes, its obsession with examining duality and companionship through the minutiae of a crumbling marriage. There are some moments of hypnotizing beauty to be found in the rubble, such as album highlight ‘Lionsong’, where mournful strings grandly follow Bjork’s voice as she sings: “Maybe he will come out of this loving me / Maybe he won’t / I’m not taming no animal”.
Her dedication to capturing the chaos of this collapse is perhaps to her own detriment, however: as the album goes on, and the story it tells becomes one of increasingly painful separation, so too its instrumental elements seem to have little to do with one another. Songs such as ‘Mouth Mantra’ become a mess of aimless beats and erratic strings which build towards nothing and offer no kind of resolution. But maybe resolution was not the point. Vulnicura, as its name suggests, is a process of emotional healing for both creator and listener, rather than a conclusion. It is an attempt to answer the question which Bjork so candidly asks on ‘Family’, looking as much at the listener as at her ex-husband: “How can I sing us out of this sorrow?’”