Bjork explores heartbreak in new album

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bjork discusses the breakdown of relationship with artist Matthew Barney which inspired ‘Vulnicura’.

“These abstract, complex feelings/ I just don’t know how to handle them” frets Björk on an album which details the break-up of her long-term relationship with artist Matthew Barney. Musician and producer Björk has spoken candidly about gender and authorship in music, claiming that she initially struggled to get credit for her musical ideas. “After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learned – the hard way – that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they – men – had the ideas,” she said, in an interview due to be published in the Pitchfork Review at the end of next month. But while the woman may have struggled with her emotions, the singer has a unique and unfettered musical and lyrical vocabulary with which to express them. Her measured elfin voice lilts gently down the line above a soft ocean swell. “Hello, Tim,” she intones calmly. “How are you?” Without warning, my youngest child lets out a Hitchcockian scream; her brother is snoring at decibels airports would be proud of, while the third — the eldest — grabs my leg, concern filling his eyes: “Daddy, where are you going?” “I’m just going to the car to talk to Bjork, buddy,” I assure him, recalling the time as a baby he wilfully hijacked phone interviews with Tito Jackson, Tim Minchin and Buffy Sainte Marie.

Speaking to Pitchfork, the artist said that the 2013 split was “the most painful thing” she had ever experienced. “When I did this album it all just collapsed. And across nine, soul-scourging tracks she confidently deploys a blend of elegant, avant-garde string arrangements, electronic beats, ecclesiastical harmonies and deeply distorted vocals to explore the strange contraflows of love, sorrow, strength, fury, nostalgia, confusion, defiance, despair, hope, grief, pity and spite that she feels at being “shut out” by the father of her twelve-year-old daughter. Characteristically, the music, written with Venezuelan producer Arca, is diffuse, often impenetrable while, as lyricist, Bjork maintains her longstanding tradition of singing in a language only faintly related to English. Over the duration of the emotionally charged interview, Björk cried more than once, and offered up her views on being taken seriously as a female solo artist. “I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things,” she said. “It’s tough. Rush released digitally two months ahead of schedule after being leaked online, if you break down the title into its components – vulnerability and cure – it is easy to imagine the album moving from one position to the other just as the music shifts stylistically.

The only way I could deal with that was to start writing for strings; I decided to become a violin nerd and arrange everything for 15 strings and take a step further than what I’ve done before.” Crying during the emotional interview, she went on to say that the subject of the break-up was difficult to open up about, but that the album’s lyrics tell the full story. “It’s really hard for me to talk about it,” she said. “It really is in the lyrics. However, the lyrics don’t follow the path of a linear recovery, but rather suggest that any cure comes through the very act of exposing vulnerability. As to the particulars: well, Vulnicura will require a good deal of parsing on the part of anyone hoping for an insight into the bread-and-butter of her romantic travails.

The cover features Björk dressed in a shiny black catsuit with a fleshy, pink slash down the centre of her chest making her look literally open hearted. Perhaps the most accessibly melodic song on the album, opener Stonemilker (written nine months before the break-up) finds a woman asking, reasonably, for “emotional respect”.

Reading like a manifesto for what is to follow, opener Stonemilker is a narcotically woozy ballad, Bjork’s sad-elf coo swirling around crepuscular strings. The muted ambiance is doubled down on through Lionsong and History of Touches; only with the rumbling beats that erupt halfway through Black Lake does Vulnicura threaten to shake off its torpor (Bjork, naturally, still sounds halfway between shriek and sob). Smelling “declarations of solitude” she piles up tense vocals : “Make the joy peak/Humour peak/Frustration peak/Anything peak/For clarity!” Two months after the break-up and the sound is submerged, with crunchy beats like cracks forming at the base of massive icebergs. “Family was always our sacred mutual mission/which you abandoned” she howls into the gale of strings and electronic percussion, which suddenly drop away from her. She’s a wonderful interview, all quiet mystery and measured politeness. “STRINGS,” says Bjork, rolling the “r” at the back of her throat into something resembling a feline purr. “Yes, strrrrrings are a little bit like our nervous system.

She trudges on through the funereal dirge of Family, the whirlwind of Notget, the philosophical Atom Dance joined by Antony Hegarty’s molten vocals and ends on the frantic beats of Quicksand in which she warns: “Every time you give up/you take away our future/and my continuity and my daughter’s/and her daughter’s …” After the wild beach party of 2007’s Volta and the shiny wonders of 2011’s Biophilia, Vulnicura is a windswept trek of a record. When a string instrument is played, we sense a neurological response; we feel an emotion.” The Icelandic singer’s elfin voice, lilting in staccato bursts down the phone from a balcony overlooking the Caribbean in Puerto Rico, trails off momentarily. The experience isn’t always pleasant – this is a collection on first name terms with claustrophobia – but you will at least come out the other side understanding you have been on a trip. Just a few hours earlier, the 49-year-old folk-pop superstar announced via social media — to mild online hysteria — her surprise ninth studio album, Vulnicura. Continuing the nomenclative theme of parts of her discography, it is derived from the Latin description for a wound that has been healed. (Of drawing on Latin for album titles, Bjork says: “It’s a neutral language; a non-language”).

And despite finding herself at this very moment in the midst of a storm of press interviews and rabid internet prattle — her handwritten album announcement on Facebook went viral within minutes — Bjork is in a quietly philosophical mood. “It’s a heartbreak album, yes,” she says of the follow-up to her wildly successful 2011 Biophilia. “Vulnicura really is about the process of healing. Bjork concedes it is a bold diversion from her more recent work in content and style. “This album is probably the most urgent I’ve done in terms of the psychology behind it,” she says. “But it’s also the most traditional one I’ve done in terms of singer-songwriting.

Yes, it’s very personal, but it’s good to change the perspective and express different angles of your character.” Vulnicura is, in fact, catharsis writ large. While she insists personal experience is all grist to the mill, it’s worth remembering this, too, is the artist who infamously attacked reporters at airports in Bangkok and Auckland (neither filed charges) for allegedly encroaching on her personal space, and who some years ago was the intended recipient of an acid bomb — intercepted by the FBI — from a crazed fan who later killed himself on video. If you’re thinking about that, all the other things fall into place.” One thing that has not quite fallen into place is the album’s official release. Recorded on the artist’s One Little Indian label, and produced by Venezuela’s Arca and British musician the Haxan Cloak, Vulnicura was leaked online earlier this week.

On March 8, New York’s Museum of Modern Art will present an exhibition of Bjork’s life and work, drawing on the past 20 years of her career in music, writing and film (her role as the protagonist in Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is still lauded by some critics). The exhibition will feature music and installation, in a large-scale project on which Bjork has collaborated with acclaimed Icelandic writer Sjon and director Andrew Thomas Huang. Bjork says she is humbled by the prospect of the eponymously titled exhibition, which was commissioned by her friend and MoMA’s chief curator Klaus Biesenbach. Since her first album Debut (1993), through 1995’s big-selling Post, Homogenic (1997), Verspertine (2001), Medulla (2004), Volta (2007) and Biophilia in 2011, the Icelander has developed a reputation for pushing the musical envelope. It was a global success, and has been used for the past three years in Reyjavik schools as part of compulsory courses in musicology. “I am very proud of that album, but I could not repeat that,” Bjork says. “Vulnicura is a very different album.

In a way, they are a true reflection of who we are, what we are.” Technology and electronica are not in short supply on her new album: she arranged all the strings — “my great singular triumph” — in her home studio and the digital soundscapes were produced on a laptop in home studios in London, Rekjyavic and New York. Not to mention the fact she will turn 50 in November. “Technically, my voice is definitely getting better with age,” she says. “I also like the tone of a voice that has experience in it. Are there any plans to return to Australia? “First, I might log on,” she says, laughing quietly, “and see some of the comments (about the album announcement).” She pauses. “That interests me greatly.

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