“Give me some emotional respect.”
The lines Björk utters on Vulnicura‘s opening track, Stonemilker, are strangely the ones that resonate the most after the record is long over (though, of course, in her own inimitable style it comes out as ‘rrrreee-spect’). Described by the Icelander as her heartbreak record, it’s immediate that the electronic tinkering of Biophilia might take a bit more of a backseat in favour of majestic, string-backed numbers that let Björk sing her fragile little heart out.
That’s not to say that typical tinkering isn’t there at all – certainly not when you’ve got the likes of Arca and The Haxan Cloak giving you a hand. But as Lionsong unfolds (“maybe he will come out of this loving me”), we’re very much in the midst of Björk at war both internally and with love. It’s that vulnerability she puts centre-stage throughout the record; with the sparse Black Lake, for example, she alternates between silence and vocal ache (“you have nothing to give, your heart is hollow”), slowly bubbling to a frantic finish. It’s a 10-minute moment of bravery, utterly arresting and one massive emotional wallop.
There’s drama by the bucketload, then, but in a different way to Biophilia. It’s in the challenging clutter of Notget, and in the stunning rollercoaster of Atom Dance, backed so skilfully by Antony Hegarty that the goosebumps are immediate and lasting. And, as always, it’s full of heart; wrenched and bleeding, perhaps, but an unusually optimistic one that definitely deserves that emotional rrreee-spect.
It’s hard to fully explain the sensations Vulnicura inspires – it certainly feels like Björk’s journey through darkness and out, the aural therapy of healing a wound. At times we applaud her resilience, at times we relate to her flaws, at times we just weep with her. It might be one of her more straightforward records – well, straightforward for Björk – but in the notes adjoining the album, she hopes that it may be a crutch for those going through similar. That it most certainly is, in all its depth and density, and ultimately ends up being her most empathetic record to date.