There are very few albums in the world that can immerse its listener so deeply that it evokes the same pain in the hearts of those listening that it seeks to create with its sound. Yet Vulnicura Strings, Bjork’s most recent album, manages to do just this. Pain permeates this album: It’s painful to listen to and nigh impossible to get through without taking some serious personal inventories about who you are as a human being inhabiting the earth.
Vulnicura Strings features interpretations of her original Vulnicura album stripped down to just vocals and strings. It’s a difficult listen, as Bjork’s strained and emotion-ridden vocals pervade the empty spaces the strings provide. There’s an inhuman, uncanny quality about her layered, disharmonious vocals and the strings together, resulting in an uncomfortable sound of dark beauty.
Perhaps the most striking of these arrangements is “Family”, which, oddly enough, doesn’t feature any of Bjork’s vocals, resulting in unnerving disorientation. Its droning strings create dissonance and unease, leaving raw emotion to be portrayed by the purity of musical instrument telling a painful and tragic story of loss. The song is immersive and frightening, inviting the listener into its dark recesses.
“Black Lake” is one of the most difficult tracks to get through because of its raw intensity and length (clocking in at past 10 minutes). The bareness of her vocals makes you feel as though you are actually intruding on Bjork’s very personal grief.
The closing track, which is a second version of “Black Lake,” has absolutely zero vocals and is played entirely with an instrument called the viola organista, which was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Incidentally, Bjork is using the only one in all of existence, and just knowing that this is the only instrument of its kind exudes loneliness — just as the track is devoid of vocals, it is also solitary in its own instrumentation. It’s mournful and eerie, sounding like a medieval funeral procession, complete with notes sustained for so long that it brings about immense discomfort.
The renditions on Vulcinura Strings have absolutely no sense of what a conventional song, complete with a chorus and a few verses, is. Instead, it forgoes all senses of form, each track weaving in and out in a sort of cosmic conglomeration, expanding and contracting. It’s a rather disorienting experience, yet there is some solace to be found despite its pervading melancholy.
Despite its pained and raw sounds, Vulcinura Strings is an album that has a message: There is life within tragedy. Vulcinura Strings, in the familiar Bjork fashion, is a glaringly honest performance in which she bares her torn heart and ravaged soul to the world, stripping down to the bare bones of what the original Vulcinura says at its core — that there is beauty in suffering.
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