Listening to Björk’s Stonemilker

I finally listened to the beginning of Björk’s Vulnicura album today. A good two minutes into the opening track, Stonemilker, it dawned on me that these nods to songs from earlier albums songs can’t be coincidences: Strings that clearly reference Jóga, as does the way the word “emotional” is used. Percussions that are very reminiscent of All is Full of Love (both off Homogenic, 1997). The prominently placed „Who is…?“, a phrase taken from Who is it? (Medúlla, 2004) together with its major triad motif, while “Show me emotional respect” echoes Show me forgiveness from the same album. „Mututal constellations“, finally, seems to allude to Mutual Core (Biophilia, 2011). I’m sure there’s more to be found by people better versed in Björk’s work.

Her songs have often felt to me like their own pristine, self-contained little worlds, polished and perfect both in their sonic and conceptual appearance – sometimes too much so for my taste. Stonemilker, on the other hand, breaks with that hermetic aesthetic. Listened to on its own I find the song strangely meandering, without much of an arc despite simple harmonies, but in the context of the album’s theme of heartbreak and loss and picking up the pieces, this scattering makes good sense. So do all the references, stringing together fragments from Björk’s past like a necklace made of shards, altering the light in which these pieces now appear. Some friends may know my love for Devin Townsend’s music which is wrought through with internal references like this. I’m not as familiar with all of Björks albums, so I don’t want to read too much into this one song. And maybe this is old news for Björkologists anyway, but to me, moments like this open up new readings of an artist’s work, moving from a linear view to one of a web of interconnected nodes of meaning, whether intentional or not. Readings become possible where individual songs suddenly start to sympathetically resonate with each other, to talk to each other, revealing a further level of potential depth in the artist’s body of work. Why is she citing those songs and not others? What web of meaning do they form? Are there other moments in her work where similar things are going on? Other kinds of connections? And so on – without even having heard the rest of Vulnicura yet. The composition thus expands beyond the individual piece (which constituted its own sealed-off “world”), spilling over into a reality which we suddenly find inseparable from art.

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