Björk doesn’t seem herself.
She’s a little distant, a little unsure of herself as the interview begins about her eighth album Vulnicura. I thank her for her music, her optimism and her hearrrt (which is her favourite word).
“Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment. Um. I don’t know. I do try. You have to kind of be really soft and see how it goes. I do try though, I do try (to be optimistic),” she second guesses.
What’s going on? Why is Iceland’s powerhouse pixie pensive? My research uncovers a breakup between Björk and Matthew Barney (the knave!) that flew under the radar a couple of years ago.
Is that it? He seems to have ran off with a “sometimes lesbian” artist he was working with, Elizabeth Peyton. Which barely makes a lick of sense.
All becomes clear two days after the interview when Vulnicura leaks and she takes to Facebook to let it all out. “I guess I found in my lap one year into writing it a complete heartbreak album. I was kinda surprised how thoroughly I had documented this in pretty much accurate emotional chronology… like three songs before a break up and three after,” she wrote.
“So the anthropologist in me sneaked in and I decided to share them as such. First I was worried it would be too self-indulgent but then I felt it might make it even more universal and hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is,” she offered.
Note the album cover has a very unsubtle picture of the enigmatic elf with a gash down her front, a look of shock in her eyes and questioning, how-could-you, outstretched hands. She goes into more detail “It’s the wound and the healing of the wound. Psychologically and physically, it has a stubborn clock attached to it. There is a way out.”
Opening song Stonemilker’s line “Find mutual coordinates” is more a plea than anything, that feeling when you’re no longer travelling in the same direction, drifting along a highway in different lanes, traffic and smog and noise and confusion getting in the away until you can no longer see the person you love(d).
“Ahhh. I’m not sure where that line came from. Synchronise, two people. It was quite impulsive,” she offers.
The track Lionsong speaks of troubles at home. “Ummm, yeah it’s about being away a long time and coming back home to a domestic situation. And maybe the lion is too wild for it,” she says.
This triggers memories of her Triumph Of a Heart clip where she raves and misbehaves and comes home to a none-too-happy partner…a giant cat (of course). The lion in this case is Bjork, she hangs Barney out to dry once again after he evidently did the same to her.
The album title Vulnicura can be broken down into the Latin words “vulnus”, meaning “inflicting wounds”, then “cura” means “care” and “cure.” It’s a before and after, fixing that stubborn timepiece.
The song History of Touches is a harrowing listen once you realise this is Bjork’s shrine to a disintegrated relationship. History of Touches is also reminiscent of Possibly Maybe’s lines from the album Post, “Your eruptions and disasters I keep calm admiring your lava, I keep calm.” Bjork doesn’t feel the same way. “Hmm. Ummm. No. I guess History of Touches is the archival element of a relationship. With Possibly Maybe each verse was like a month, it was nine months,” she explains. “History of Touches is about the archive a couple has gathered, something they shared, an emotional archive.” It’s the first time Bjork has dropped an F-bomb in a song too. “Yeah, I liked it. I like the place where it was, it was quite soft. It was definitely…I didn’t scream it, I said it softly.”
Cheaply labelled a “diss-track” by the press, Black Lake is a 10 minute exfoliation of the soul. She sings “My soul torn apart” then fires off “I honoured my feelings, you betrayed your own heart” and “Family was always our sacred, mutual mission which you abandoned.” Barney’s ears will be burning for the rest of 2015. One last kick in the guts: “You have nothing to give, your heart is hollow.”
This wasn’t an uncoupling. This was Barney going AWOL.
She got past it though and so will we. Producer to the stars Arca (Kanye West, FKA Twigs) stepped in after Barney had stepped out. “We co-wrote Family and one otherrrr song,” she says fondly in that spittly accent.
Did it feel like they had collective intuition in the studio? “Yeah. It was one of the most magical musical relationships I’ve had, it was really fun. Really good energy and high energy and a lot of doing,” she agrees.
Once the doing was done, Arca and Björk and British musicians Haxan Cloak would hit a tiny bar to DJ.
“I did that once a month last year with friends. I like the idea of working in a studio and when you feel you’ve earned it and you’ve finished the song you finish for the day, it’s a good rewarrrrrd to have. If you finish your songs for a week then you can DJ, you think ‘I did it,’ then you can go and do it.”
On Adam’s Dance, Antony Hegarty’s unmistakable bubble-in-throat warble pops up.
“He was a year ago on holiday in the Caribbean and he came down and I was asking if he could sing on this song and he just got up to the microphone and sang it,” she recalls. “He’s one of my closest friends. There is a really supernatural energy between us. Adam’s Dance is an ode to love, Antony is very emotionally open, really generous. He was a really good fit, ya know?”
Vulnicura (One Little Indian/Inertia) out now.