This Björk article was written by Siobhan Scarlett, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster. Photo by Musacchio & Ianniello
As a zealous remix aficionado, Björk has always been celebrated for the artistic quality of her work. This artistic style tracks back to the acid house scene, which arrived in indie clubs in Iceland. She quotes “Going to all those first raves, it was really obvious that there wasn’t really one correct way of doing a song.” On 2011’s ‘Biophilia’, one gets a sense of that concept hitting its peak in her mind.
Despite its predecessor being rooted in ideas around organic matter and mutation, this year’s ‘Vulnicura’ felt more like a living process than ever before.
The track list was a timeline of the journey through collapse of her 13-year relationship, and its shattering fallout. The liner notes dated the songs according to their distance from the emotional rift at its centre, culminating in the ten minute ‘Black Lake’. This track moved from the abstract jumbled feelings of pain, to more concrete clear feelings.
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‘Vulnicura Strings’ brings the record back to the very beginning of the process, in which Björk threw herself into writing complex string arrangements, as a way of keeping her mind occupied after the split. The addition of subtly formidable beats added to the record’s sense of estrangement. So, one may believe that removing them would result in a raw and more ‘naked’ version of ‘Vulnicura,’ but this sounds more like a sealing and closing up of the tracks. It is still just as tragic and overwhelming, but has a sense of being less broken.
Some listeners may argue that the original electronic instrumentation is distracting and complicating but ‘Vulnicura Strings’, a remake of the album using only strings, is not necessarily an easier listen. It is surprisingly far more intense, by giving Björk’s tormented vocals more space, in a closer mic recorded version. The breaks in ‘Black Lake’ seem to linger even longer, with a kind of obstinate serenity. The lyrics are stripped out of ‘Family’ in favour of emphasizing its two frenzied crescendos.
Most of these songs never had hooks to begin with. They expanded and diminished to match the confused and racing emotions, with the percussion providing a light frame. Thus, without its light punctuation, ‘Vulnicura Strings’ can at points feel slightly lacking in a structure. Nevertheless, it is still a very strong piece of work.
It’s unlikely that ‘Vulnicura Strings’ will replace the original version in the listener’s mind. Despite this, it can serve as symbolic partner to it, which brings a fresh feel to the tracks. It is further testament to the fact that one can be reborn after destruction.
‘Vulnicura Strings’ is out now via One Little Indian.