#13. Björk: Vulnicura

Vulnicura is Björk’s most heartbreaking work to date. Tackling the heavy themes of love and loss, it chronicles the dissolution of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney. Previous albums have found Björk singing spritely pop tunes adorned in large Bowie-esque costume pieces that influenced acts like Lady Gaga. But on Vulnicura, she sounds naked and alone as she bares her emotions with brutal honesty.

The album features some production from Venezuelan DJ Arca, but it doesn’t reflect his signature brooding sound. Vulnicura is both lush and minimalist. Silence and the spaces between sounds play a more important role here than on earlier albums like Debut—something that reflects the collapse of her relationship with Barney. Whether skating over deep beds of synths or a full string arrangement—or just multitracking her own voiceBjörk wraps herself in some of her richest, most mournful harmonies. “History of Touches” is one long canvas of sputtering synth chords over which she recounts one of the last nights before her relationship ended. 

On “Lionsong,” she’s still wondering if there’s a chance that “maybe he will come out of this loving me.” It’s a hopeful prospect, but her anguished tone gives away that she's already starting to brace herself for the breakup. The centerpiece of the album is ten-minute-long “Black Lake.” It’s central lyrically, because it marks the first chronological song that makes the leap from pre- to post-breakup. It’s hard to hear her sing lines like, “did I love you too much? / devotion bent me broken,” because she sounds so distraught and alone, drowning in her sadness. “Black Lake” is also central musically, as Björk’s vocals come to a climax over frantic drum palpitations and swirling strings.

Vulnicura is so sad that it’s hard to listen to at times. Björk has been around long enough that as fans we empathize with her through her music. When somebody whom you identify with is in this much pain, it’s common to want to comfort her, but we can’t reach through the music and help her through it. Listening to Vulnicura can make you feel a bit helpless, as Björk is left to suffer alone in her songs. That helplessness is what makes the message behind the album so authentic, though. It’s a stunning musical representation of loss and the depression that it can bring.