Have you heard Björk‘s new album, Vulnicura, yet? It’s… devastating. Björk’s ninth studio album is a “complete heartbreak album,” as she put it in a Facebook post, about the dissolution of her longtime relationship with American multimedia artist Matthew Barney. Coming off of 2011’s nature-centric Biophilia album, Björk captures the personal trauma before and after the breakup — and in the middle of the disintegration is the album’s centerpiece, “Black Lake.” It’s a 10-minute song in which she works up the nerve to throw darts at Barney and release the fluid fury of a woman scorned. It is a Björk diss track. It is a must-hear.
The first three songs on Vulnicura take place before the actual breakup (the booklet that accompanies the album on iTunes creates a rough timeline of the separation; opener “Stonemilker,” for instance, is annotated as “9 months before”). That opening third of the album captures the sorrowful end of Björk’s relationship with Barney, and finds the Icelandic artist rationalizing her feelings of mistrust, remembering the moments she and her partner shared and expressing frustration at the inability to change the status quo.
“Black Lake” is the fourth song on the album and takes place “2 months after” the breakup, so emotions are still pretty raw… and when I say raw, I mean that Björk is pissed. She is in that familiar phase of the breakup where she cannot deal at all, still feels wronged and wants to linger in the hurt before moving on. But Björk is not wasting time subtweeting Barney or unfriending him on Facebook — she’s going in swinging, roughing up her ex’s credibility, motivations, decisions and manhood. “Black Lake” is Björk’s 10-minute version of Big Sean‘s “I Don’t Fuck With You,” which is as compelling to hear as it is to consider.
Björk starts off “Black Lake” by simply scavenging the remains of her relationship. “Our love was my womb / But our bond has broken / My shield is gone / My protection taken,” Björk cries over weeping strings that she personally arranged. She then likens herself to an “enormous lake / black with potion,” and as the production (courtesy of Björk and Arca) begins to grow legs out of her loss, a broken Björk stands up and levels her first blow: “You fear my limitless emotions / I’m bored of our apocalyptic obsessions,” she sneers, before asking rhetorically, “Did I love you too much?”
The music transitions into a thrilling tribal dance groove, but Björk is far from done making a mess of her ex. When her voice returns, it is throwing haymakers.
“I did it for love, honored my feelings / you betrayed your own heart / corrupted that organ,” she seethes as beats are scattered beneath her words. “Family was always our sacred mutual mission / Which you abandoned.” That backhanded “Which you abandoned” is just an unreal diss — leveled over collapsing violins, no less!
Then Björk goes for the jugular: “You have nothing to give / your heart is hollow.” And to make sure it’s clear that “Black Lake” isn’t Björk on the Blu Cantrell Plan of scorning her man and moving on, she clarifies that her former partner’s hollow heart has completely ruined her. “I’m drowned in sorrows / No hope in sight of ever recover / eternal pain and horrors,” she sings, giving the song a heartbreaking climax and making the listener loathe her male subject even more.
By the end of Vulnicura, Björk has recovered — somewhat. She declares that “When I’m broken I am whole” on the album-closing “Quicksand,” and is strong enough to throw more shade on the final song’s final stanza: “We are the siblings of the sun / Let’s step into this beam / Every time you give up / You take away our future / And my continuity and my daughter’s / And her daughters / And her daughters…” By breaking up their partnership, this guy is literally destroying generations of potential Björk offspring. This is an unforgivable offense.
In a new interview with Pitchfork, Björk says of “Black Lake,” “I was really embarrassed about that song. I can still hardly listen to it.” Indeed, the unprocessed feelings on “Black Lake” are painful to digest, but Björk has nothing to be embarrassed about. “Black Lake” is a samurai sword, slicing the head off of a doomed relationship, and an opportunity for one of music’s most imaginative artists to clench her fists and scream obscenities, as every normal human wants to do after a nasty breakup.
Like the best diss tracks, “Black Lake” is a captivating window into irresolution. This is no “breakup song,” but a no-holds-barred takedown. So what about a Björk breakup song? Listen to the rest of Vulnicura. “Black Lake” is an extended middle finger to the man who took her sanity, family, life and love. Swim in that anger.