PETRIe Music Editor, Dimas Bian, has analysed Vulnicura - the eighth studio album from Iceland’s most famous musicial export, Bjork - alongside Madonna and her new album Rebel Heart, in (Not) Living for Love and Rebel Heart Vs. Vulnicura. Now, Bian casts Madonna aside and pulls out his editorial scalpel to dissect Vulnicura on its own merit, having listened to it sang live in the very grandiose New York City Centre.
Bjork’s eighth studio album, Vulnicura, is named after the Latin words for ‘wound’ and ‘cure’. If spelt backwards, some hardcore fans of Bjork have read its title as ‘ar-u-c-in-luv’ or rather, ‘are you seeing love’. The juxtaposition of these translations is evident, and no doubt affects how the sounds are perceived. Ultimately though, all are in agreement that the album tells of the break up between the iconic singer and her American artist partner, Matthew Barney.
Inherently personal, the only thing more intimate than listening to Vulnicura is going to see Bjork perform its songs in person. Staged in the very grandiose New York City Centre, the whole performance setting of the show was very minimalistic. There was no crazy make up and the heavy wigs had gone, but instead a magnificent yellow dress - the colour of healing - by Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen, took centre stage.
With support from London-based DJ Arca in the electronic beats, Manu Delago on hang and drum, and 15 members of the New York avant-garde ensemble Alarm Will Sound - all crowded onto a single stage - Bjork’s unique vocals are carefully arranged between violins, violas and cellos.
The background display shows the songs’ notes, melody and beats. In previous concerts of Vulnicura, the lyrics have also been projected, with Bjork glancing back occasionally to sing along with them in karaoke style. Though this one does not, having the lyrics displayed certainly carries advantages in enabling the audience to clearly understand what the artist is saying during her distinct style of singing and her thick Icelandic accent. “I wish I knew what she’s singing about,” I overheard an audience member comment throughout this concert.
The performance itself is divided in two: one part is songs from Vulnicura, the other part is her old songs that marry in with the theme, interjected with an interval and concluded with an encore. During the first stage of her performance, Bjork sometimes, but not too often, forgot her lyrics, resorting to her trademark gibberish: “ahhllt simeen dooo”.
Starting the show with hit single potential Stonemilker, which boasts the first music video ever made in Virtual Reality using a 360-degree camera and requiring special technology, Bjork painfully expresses: “A juxtapositioning fate, find our mutual coordinate... Show me emotional respect.” With lyrics that seem to signal a cracking period in her relationship with Barney, it is unsurprising that according to the timeline in her album, this song was written nine months before the couple broke up.
A little closer to breaking point, in her second performance Lion Song - written five months before the break up - Bjork reluctantly seeks clarity asking: “Maybe he will come out of this, maybe he won’t, somehow I’m not too bothered... I just like to know.”
Fast-forward to three months before the end, Bjork willingly opens herself up to her listeners, revealing her relationship to a much greater degree within track History of Touches: “every single fuck we had together, is in a wondrous time lapse”.
In Black Lake - supposedly the centre-piece of the album - she sings: “my heart is enormous lake, black with potion; I am blind, drowning in this ocean.” The electronic beat that Arca provides along with a harmonious strings arrangement sounds both classical, as much as it is trailblazing – the most progressive sound of Bjork’s music to date.
From this performance alone, Bjork proves that she is much more than the pop musicians of the last decade. She leaves her audience feeling lucky to have witnessed her in person – a sonically musical genius, still alive and well, creating her best work to date.
From a technical stand-point, Vulnicura sonically resembles her minimalist fourth studio album Homogenic, yet it is the other side of the hemisphere from her following release Vespertine, aesthetically. Sacrificing her undulating vocal for the arrangements of the songs, as well as the painfully beautiful yet merciful lyrics of Vulnicura, Bjork skilfully the demure sounds of strings in an eclectic musical arrangement for which she fully deserves tremendous credit.
Words: Dimas Bian
Image Source: Björkish.net