Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian/Inertia)

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Bjork: Atom Dance (w Antony Hegarty)
Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian/Inertia)

As with many interesting musicians -- Cohen, Dylan, Faithfull, Cave, Waits et al come to mind -- Bjork is of rock culture (in that she is written about in the rock press) but not really part of it.

She makes sometimes very demanding art music which musically and often conceptually transcends the limitations of genre work and has created a territory in which at times she seems the sole inhabitant. Others can enter: previously Tagaq, Tricky, Evelyn Glennie, Matmos and others, here Antony Hegarty, Venezuelan producer Arca who has worked with Kayne West and FKA Twigs, and Britain's The Haxan Cloak.

But it is always a world of her own construction.

As the striking cover suggests, this time she is dealing with the open wound of a relationship break-up and while localising her mental state she also reaches for the universal truth of pain and heartbreak.

How she does it of course isn't by bedroom moping or bitching bitterness but through sometimes jarring juxtapositions of strings and electronics, clattering beats and bizarre, disconcerting sonics . . . all in support of that expressive and often intimate sounding voice.

The heart of the album exists with the strings and voice (there are lot of strings, sometimes obliquely romantic despite the nerve-end emotions), and her naked revelations of self: "Maybe he will come out of this, maybe he won't, somehow I'm not too bothered either way," she sings on Lionsong.

And immediately after there is the lovely History of Touches ("I wake you up in the middle of the night to express my love for you") which is given a portentous electronic setting as the end of the relationship looms.

With pieces given a time frame -- nine months before, two months after, six months after -- we are taken on this journey of shifting emotions and relationships, and the final piece Quicksand reflects on women (possibly in her own family) who suffered a similar dissolution . . . and yet, despite the brittle electronics, she sings with a powerful optimism: "When she is broken she is whole, and when she's whole she is broken . . . we are the sibings of the sun, let's step into this beam".

In the past decade or so Bjork has rarely made music which is easy to listen to, but also not this personal.

Vulnicura is challenging but ultimately a successful piece of self-surgery because it feels brutally honest couched in an angular beauty and the rawness of a bared soul. 

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