Björk’s 2011 Biophilia addressed the universe, from molecular to cosmic levels, and was presented in elaborate formats, including an interactive app. Her latest couldn’t be simpler: a breakup album, that most common pop coin. But with Björk, even simplicity is intricate business. Arranged for voice with orchestral strings and electronic beats, Vulnicura is a unified set of nine dark, swarming, melodically distended songs. There is clearly some autobiography here about her relationship with artist/co-parent Matthew Barney. But whatever informed it, this may be the most heart-rending music she’s ever made.
The first six songs chart the before-and-after arc of a crisis, pivoting on the 10-minute “Black Lake.” It’s the set’s most devastating number, unfurling in slow-mo, with knife-twist lyrics (“Your heart is hollow”) and droning gaps that read like choked emotions. Electronic prodigies Arca and the Haxan Cloak add production touches here and there; “Atom Dance” is a digitally distressed duet with Antony, recalling the break between human and computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But this is primarily the sound of a woman alone, riven yet indomitable. When, on “Black Lake,” she declares she is a “Rocket/Returning home,” trilling her r’s, it’s a scarred triumph.