Music Reviews: The Latest From Bjork, Sleater-Kinney, The Decemberists and More

Find out what you should be listening to this weekend.

ByAllan Raible
January 24, 2015, 6:24 AM
PHOTO: Bjork performs at the 'Stopp - Let's Protect the Park' nature benefit concert at Harpa Concert Hall on March 18, 2014 in Reykjavik, Iceland, March 18, 2014.
Bjork performs at the 'Stopp - Let's Protect the Park' nature benefit concert at Harpa Concert Hall on March 18, 2014 in Reykjavik, Iceland, March 18, 2014.

— -- intro: This week, Bjork drops a surprise album, celebrated rock trio Sleater-Kinney make a triumphant return, the Decemberists offer up their latest dose of highly-literate folk-rock, Fall Out Boy continue to try merge elements of rock and pop and Marilyn Manson explores his dark, bluesy side. January is in full swing. It’s a busy week.

quicklist:title: Bjork’s “Vulnicura” *****text: Only a week after its announcement, Bjork has “pulled a Beyoncé" and dropped her latest album on iTunes two months ahead of its physical release. And this record is a stunner. It could be her best work since “Homogenic” in 1998. Its orchestral core recalls that record strongly, although this also may be the most musically sophisticated release of her career. Really, this is a breakup record of the saddest variety, chronicling the dissolving of a relationship.

This is a vulnerable, gentle soundtrack to one’s world falling down. This is heartbreak at its most aching and its most beautiful, from the accounts of breakup sex during “History Of Touches” to the effective funeral march of “Family.” If you are looking for a pop fix, you won’t find it here. This is essentially an expansive classical piece, with the album’s nine songs spreading across an hour. By Bjork’s standards, this really borders on being an opera. This is a sonically and musically dense meditation on grief and yet there are moments of jaw-dropping grace.

If you’ve never understood Bjork, this album probably won’t change your mind, but those open to this record will find a bona fide classic. Also, if you’ve never listened to Bjork before, opener, “Stonemilker” serves as a great gauge, so while this album doesn’t have the single potential of let’s say 1995’s “Post,” it is a stellar record suited for consumption by new fans.

This album is also quite sprawling. Seven of its nine tracks clock in over the six-minute mark. Bjork also reunites with Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons effectively on “Atom Dance.” The two previously sang together on “The Dull Flame Of Desire” on 2007’s “Volta."

Bjork has never put out a weak album. All of her records always come off as painstakingly crafted, making her a true innovator. But “Vunicura” sets a new bar among the best of her catalog. You feel her heartbreak in these sweeping pieces. It ought to be interesting to see how well this album charts next week. It’s a true masterpiece and it deserves a great deal of attention. This is the first truly magnificent album of 2015.

Focus Tracks:

“Stonemilker” This opener is easily among her most beautifully-crafted works to date. The string-arrangements are enveloping and her melody makes excellent transitions from the mournful verses to the multiple choruses and the end result is transcendent in many respects.

"Black Lake” This ten-minute mood-piece moves from a bare orchestral backdrop to a slowly foreboding, almost Reznor-esqe digital pound. Her grief is felt throughout the track.

“Lionsong” These tracks are arranged in the timeline of a breakup, chronicling before and after the relationship’s collapse. This song is said to be “5 months before” where she senses trouble, longs for a simpler time and sings to herself, “Maybe he will come out of this loving me. / Maybe he won’t.” That doubting feeling of something that once felt certain can be crushing.

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