Saturday, March 07, 2015

Bjork, "Vulnicura"

I haven't heard a Bjork album in full since "Homogenic", which I found underwhelming despite the potential of a collaboration with producer Mark Bell.  Eighteen years later, the news of an Arca/Haxan Cloak guest producer tandem was finally enough to pique my interest again.  

That might seem to put me in a category with the people who are short-changing Bjork by making "Vulnicura" about her producers rather than about her, and thereby refusing to give her the proper credit for her music.  A lot has been written about this, and I don't think either side has got it completely right.  Arca and Haxan Cloak are a significant part of the story that is "Vulnicura", and I give Bjork all the credit in the world for bringing them onto the project.  This is in no way a backhanded comment.  It's like giving credit to a DJ for having good taste in music.   Track selection (i.e. knowing which tracks will sound good together, building a set list, having a feel for what the crowd wants) is by far the most important skill for a DJ, even though it's the more technical aspects of DJ'ing (e.g. beatmatching, use of effects) that often get most of the attention.  Choosing a producer is more than just finding a hot hand, it's about meshing of two conceivably different mindsets.  The difference between a successful meeting of minds and a stylistically ugly clash in styles comes down to the artists' instincts about what is likely to work and what won't.

The actual music makes a lot of this discussion moot anyway.  The album is dominated by the string arrangements (composed entirely by Bjork) and of course her singular voice.  The electronic flourishes are the undercurrent to the main melodies -- they enhance the music but aren't central to the plot of the album.  I could easily imagine a strings and voice only version of the same album.  However, the dark, murky sound of The Haxan Cloak is all over "Family", the lone track he co-produced.  The only superfluous guest contribution is Antony Hegarty as the guest vocalist on "Atom Dance".  His parts feel imported from a completely different album and forced onto this one.  Otherwise this is a fairly minimalist album that sticks faithfully to a simple aesthetic.  I would have wanted to hear more electronic experimentation along with Bjork's breakup hymns set to modern classical music, but longtime fans of hers may not agree.  

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