Yellow has never seemed melancholic until it appeared on Björk’s new album, Vulnicura, that was released on iTunes yesterday as a surprise after its online leaks. Nonetheless, it’s a heck of a treat for all. Foreign, artificial, yet familiar and natural, the cover artwork suggests a transformed, mature Björk clouded in serenity. What else does it say?
Björk’s studio album covers carefully follow a formula: a self-portrait from the stomach up (in Volta, only her head is really shown — the rest is a statue, so it’s technically not her), laid against a digitally rendered background, and she’s dressed in an outfit that epitomises the sound of each album, threading a narrative (or rather, worlds) together. Debut saw her diving into a new world, where she felt homesick and resulted in Post; her frustrations erupted into Homogenic and calmed down in Vespertine, where she fell in love; Medulla commemorated the birth of a child, Volta encapsulated the spirit of a mother; and in Biophilia, everything seemed to have come together as she ruled the universe. Four years later, however, Vulnicura contradicts the sentiment. It says: “maybe not all is together.”
It is a heartbreaking album that chronicles the beginning of the end of a relationship, and time in the wake of the inevitable separation. What makes it devastating is that she not only opens a conversation between her and her partner, but their child. But it’s okay. She overcomes the pain by the last few songs and is still determined to continue her young family. The story makes the album relatable, or as she says, “more universal,” which is needed for a less accessible sounding album. Arca and The Haxan Cloak co-produced the album together with Björk, creating a neoclassical, scientific and snatchy sound, which you may be acquainted with in FKA Twigs’ LP2. With this album, they’re almost revisiting Homogenic, but the vulnerability resembles Vespertine. Here, Björk’s vocals finally melt into complex beats and miraculous rhythm without being overpowered. If this was her final album —and I hope it’s not, but I have a strong inkling it will be— it’s a good one to cross the finish line.
Let’s analyse a little more on the cover, though! My, what a cover. In an ensemble of a latex suit covered with a stunning layered PVC shard headpiece by Maiko Takeda, the Icelandic artist is portrayed as a tranquil celestial creature. Her gesture mimics what we can describe as the Atom Dance, one waltz-like track off the album featuring Antony Hegarty. But I personally can’t help to see that the singer, standing gracefully with open arms and endless thighs, resembles the alien Pokémon, Deoxys (my favorite in the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald game series, it floats on a comet). It gets fun when you learn of the Pokédex entry, which eerily corresponds to the album cover:
DEOXYS emerged from a virus that came from space. It is highly intelligent and wields psycho kinetic powers. This POKéMON shoots lasers from the crystalline organ on its chest.
Do you not see that on trompe l’oeil piece on her chest? Björk does look like she can shoot lasers from that thing, and you won’t unsee this — it’s like a vagina. Matthew Barney fucked with her heart and it seems as though she’s taken that symbolism literally. Now that’s feminism. Isn’t it also a coincidence that she wrote a song called Crystalline and Virus for the same album about the cosmos? The Takeda piece, with its arrangement of colored microscope slides forming spikes, resembles a virus. She might not be in red and blue but she is literally the character Deoxys with a gaping vaginal chest, and I’m sticking with that statement. Perhaps she was amidst playing the game when she designed the character.
If last time in Biophilia she explored macro intergalactic systems, in Vulnicura she’s retreated inside into biological, microorganisms. By the end of her journey forming the album, she’s fashioned an extremely avant-garde self.This person on the cover is the personification of a huntress diving into the body. As usual, the shot was captured by photographer duo Inez & Vinoodh, under the direction of M/M Paris, both of whom she had previously collaborated with since the Vespertine era. They’ve done a great job with her art direction — and in the booklet that accompanies the Vulnicura download, we consistently see the cover’s colours consistently on each page, splattered with tubular typography. It’s simple, and almost feels blank but somehow it lifts the mood and lyricism when you’re giving the album a proper go.
Now, I’ll tell you why this might just be her final album — and I don’t imagine a person like Björk to ever stop making music. This album is reminiscent of the various elements from all her previous albums, and thus may be a conclusion to her tale. It may simply be the fact that Vulnicura is the latest release. The second reason is the perfect timing: Bjork’s got a retrospective exhibit at the MoMA due to open in a couple of months, and an unreleased book, Björk: Archives, documenting over 20 years worth of creative process. Plus, her tour is kicking off and she’s doing Governer’s Ball. It all just (finally) sounds… together. However, there is hope: I don’t think she’d end her story with a heartbreak. Besides, she’s been making songs about them since ever. She’s somebody who triumphs with majesty, and although Vulnicura is by no means a defeat, we have not seen Björk at her peak