From an (almost) unprecedented leak two whole months before its release date to its heavy subject matter, emotion is undoubtedly the crux of Björk's ninth studio record. Born in the wake of the Icelandic pop savant's separation from partner Matthew Barney in 2013, Vulnicura is a poignant look at the thoughts and feelings that come with end of a relationship and the healing process that follows. Defining it simply as a "breakup record" would be selling the effort short, having come from the mind of an artist who penned her previous album around the phenomena of Mother Nature. In turning to explore themes of human nature, Vulnicura delivers much more on a musical and lyrical level than your archetypal breakup record typically does.
Moving chronologically through the collapse of the relationship, Björk captures each moment with utmost care in her words. "Maybe he will come out of this/ Maybe he won't/ Somehow I'm not too bothered either way," she questions in the pre-separation "Lionsong," continuing the self-reflection with the vivid, intimate "History of Touches." The most forthright of these moments is the ten-minute "Black Lake," expressing both anger and sorrow through scorning lines such as "You have nothing to give/ Your heart is hollow," and "Family was always our sacred mutual mission/ Which you abandoned." Long or short, these fragments carry a significant amount of emotional weight.
Dominating the record sonically, Björk's string arrangements are easily her most impressive since Homogenic, and the ideal backdrop for her evocative tales. From the early optimism of "Stonemilker" to the bleak "Family," each mood is enhanced by the touch of Venezuelan super-producer Arca. Dialling back the frightening textures he employed on his debut, Xen, his influence is most recognizable on the unsettling, percussive "Notget."
These feelings are not without resolve, as Björk embraces the light on "Quicksand" through realizing "When we're broken we are whole/ And when we're whole we're broken." Whereas 2001's Vespertine was written when the two first began their relationship, Vulnicura is a well-crafted antithesis musically and thematically, resulting in the most compelling effort she has put forth in years. (One Little Indian)