[sic] Magazine

Björk – Vulnicura

Where does Björk the artist stop and her production team start? She has, of course, a rich history of collaboration, as well as a penchant for bold choices in producers. Vulnicura is no different in this regard. Crucially though, when Björk wants her work to be delineated then it is. See her Mount Wittenberg Orca project with Dirty Projectors for proof. Even still, with producers as strong and identifiable as Arca and The Haxan Cloak would Vulnicura remain a Björk album? Tellingly it’s an album that opens with the sombre “stonemilker”, one of only two tracks not produced by Arca; the other is its thuggish closing statement.

Vulnicura means “cure for wounds” and it’s well documented as a cathartic reaction to her break-up with Matthew Barney. On the striking artwork she even wears a visible wound on her chest. It’s personal out of necessity – as intimate as she’s been since Vespertine – and it’s also 100% Björk, a return to the string arrangements and beats of Homogenic, so too the angelic choral turns of Biophilia. It’s probably sexist in any case to assume Björk would let her producers dominate. She kept Timbaland on a fairly tight leash during Volta after all. And she was never an artist likely to “do a Kanye”, employing all the best beat-makers to do her work for her.

Only when she lets it does the production become noticeable. Arca’s skittish work blossoms like a bruise as his palette challenges and soothes simultaneously during “history of touches”. The Haxan Cloak’s involvement shouldn’t be over-sold either. While he “co-mixes” the majority of the album, he’s credited with production only on “family” – the track’s tell-tale bpm drag and steel-sharpening suggestive of a horror soundtrack, Björk’s stabbing strings more definite in this vein. The stand-out “notget”, however, was written by all three of these players and it shows. The blunt-force sub-bass is pure Haxan Cloak, the cut-and-paste militaristic drum programme the unmistakable work of Arca. Together there are echoes of These New PuritansHidden LP, Björk spitting out her vocal with a machinegun trill, swooping and soaring around Nordic mountaintops elsewhere on the album. The 10-minute “black lake” is another highlight, crying strings fading to nothing only to be reprised on a bed of stuttering 808 compressions, Björk’s blood seeming to boil over in places, calming counts-to-ten required just after.

In fact only two of Vulnicura’s running-order pass in less than six minutes. She’s certainly in no rush, but neither does she ever allow herself to wallow either. That’s where the razor-sharp production comes in. Arca and The Haxan Cloak are there because she needs them to be, but only ever on her own terms and when you realise that Vulnicura starts to get under your skin despite flirting with Radiohead syndrome, i.e. straddling an awkward middle-ground where it’s not quite experimental enough to appeal to the Avant crowd yet still some distance from heavy radio rotation. That said it is an LP with highly accessible moments, the flighty “atom dance”, which features the ever-sublime Antony Hegarty, really igniting on his arrival, the two duetting around an Owen Pallett-like arrangement until it fractures into bassy glitch. No two people are likely to approach Vulnicura in the same way as a result and each listen rewards differently. You’ll have your favourites and others may leave you cold, but as Vulnicura is essentially like flicking through Björk’s memories you wouldn’t really want it any other way.

Best track: “notget”

~Vulnicura is out now on One Little Indian.~