Release Date: Jun 9, 2015
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It begins with a question and ends in understanding. "Did you learn nothing in America?" Jenny Hval asks. Who this question is directed at is unclear, it could be us - the audience - it could be the artist herself, the question remains unanswered as Hval reports what she found, or more accurately didn't.
“What is it to take care of yourself?” Jenny Hval wonders near the start of her curious, frequently brilliant new album, the third she’s put out under her own name. The answers she wryly proposes range from the capitalistic (“fighting for visibility in your market”) to the abject (“not making a fool of yourself”) to the autoerotic: a familiar progression in the Norwegian’s work, which is nothing if not frank about sex. Apocalypse, Girl is at once plaintive, savagely ironic and disconcertingly funny – behold the banana imagery in the opening track Kingsize – and the music teeters between harmony and dissonance.
Like Björk and FKA Twigs, Norwegian artist Jenny Hval presents a version of female sexuality in which carnal impulses, anxieties and the female/male perspective are often knotted together. Her 2013 John Parish-produced album Innocence Is Kinky translated theories on identity and gender inequality into confrontational art-pop, starting with her watching porn. Its followup could also keep you busy for days.
While many musicians are happy to stick a "na-na-na," a "baby, baby" or any old throwaway rubbish over their thoughtless three-chord ditties, Jenny Hval is determined to push her language just as far as her music. Sitting somewhere between bawdy poet, avant-garde Ballardian sci-fi author, experimental composer, and actual pop star, Hval's unique brain is jam-packed with ideas, many of them a little bit filthy. Performing at last year's Supersonic Festival, she blamed her Norwegian-ness for the fact that she is "very shy" but gets "the urge to shout rude things." She doesn't exactly shout as much as she sings, whispers, sighs, and speaks about cunts, fucking, naked boys, and banana phalluses.
“Intimacy is beyond rules — that is the very nature of it. If it’s pretty, maybe you’re not close enough.” So begins Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s review of Bjork’s Vulnicura for online publication the Talkhouse; but she may as well be talking about her own spoken-sung songs. Since 2011’s Viscera (before then she released two albums of radio-friendlier ditties as Rockettothesky), Hval has unflinchingly been the one to go there, whether she’s writing about using toothbrushes as vibrators or filming NSFW music videos that feature a girl masturbating.
Jenny Hval is a Norwegian artist whose prolific and varied output spans EPs released in collaboration with other artists and under the name Rockettothesky, one novel, numerous pieces of journalism and four solo albums, of which Apocalypse, Girl is the latest. There will be few more arresting openings to an album this year than Kingsize. Opening with a quote from the Danish poet Mette Moestrup (“Think big, girl, like a king, think kingsize…”), Hval intones her words as if she’s reciting an instruction manual.
What is soft dick rock? However one might go about answering Jenny Hval’s initial question on Apocalypse, girl, the Norwegian artist uses her fifth album to continue investigating themes of dominance, security, and vulnerability as subjective experiences within the confines of her abstract pop. Hval’s dick is delicate in its soft state; it’s portrayed in a vulnerable light, cupped by hands and hidden from view; it’s sheltered and re-sexualized and cast into the limelight of the opening two songs. Each piece makes for a beautiful, unceremonious introduction to the otherwise private and sensitive world Hval has always dared to define.
Now with three albums released under her own name (not including her previous two as Rockettothesky), Norwegian singer-songwriter-author-academic Jenny Hval continues to make the human body and human sexuality central to her work, but on her latest, Apocalypse, Girl, she also takes on a litany of anxieties and concerns both individual and societal. As on her previous two albums, Viscera (2011) and Innocence Is Kinky (2013), Hval embraces aspects of popular music while also disregarding the limiting expectations that come tied to such forms. Still, Apocalypse, Girl might be, musically speaking, her most concise collection of songs yet, if also the most thematically loose and diverse.
Experimental singer/songwriter Jenny Hval's work is cryptically pleasurable, prone to breeding obsession, and full of surprises. As she mentions several times throughout Apocalypse, girl, she recorded her latest album when she was 33, and like a lot of people in their Jesus year she found herself at an existential crossroads. Apocalypse, girl has plenty of what-does-it-all-mean moments—Hval reckons with longing and self-doubt, tentatively considers ideas of domesticity and traditional standards of satisfaction, and fantasizes about spiritual (or possibly even literal) rebirth—but she seems to have come out of her crisis even more committed to following the challenging path she’s chosen for herself.
Jenny Hval wants to make you uncomfortable. Apocalypse, girl, the Norwegian’s fifth album, aims to free sexuality and dismantle capitalism’s role as its puppeteer. Her art rock pushes more boundaries than its low-key jazz and slam poetry roots might let on. As she undermines gender norms and social expectations of our bodies, Hval gracefully finds empowerment through vulnerability.
By taking the listener down into a cavernous chamber of stream-of-conscious musings on Apocalypse, girl, Jenny Hval invites us to a haunting vision of desire and frustration. Spoken word, drum loops, organs and synths craft an ethereal dream that is punctured by the dark subject matter of the lyrics. Hval delves into sexuality frequently, with opening track "Kingsize" touching on gender roles and indefinable malaise.
When will the battle be over? When you no longer have to appropriate the cultural forms of dominant (or different groups) to prove you can do them just as well? When you no longer have to parody, subvert, or exaggerate representations by the dominant group to expose their absurdity? When you no longer have to forge your own language by looking in the cracks between extant idioms, but can avail yourself of all? When dichotomies are out of the question, and even the dialectic between Us and Them ceases to be implicit in the conversation-that-is-art, and you simply are – speaking in your own voice at last? Gender and the process of gendering remain omnipresent in the lyrics and music of Jenny Hval, who, as of album #7 may no longer be referred to as a 'prodigy', in that she’s now more like a confirmed woman-of-juno (that being the under-used feminine form of ‘genius’). 'That Battle is Over' – her ironically titled single – reminds us that we’re still at the fourth wave of feminism, and while the album’s soundscape largely dispenses with signifiers of confrontation (the dissonance, noise, and fragmentation of her mid-period albums), it’s also a long way from the sweet Scandi-pop of her earliest incarnation, Rockettothesky, where she smuggled subversive sentiments via her lyrics, delivered in an almost operatically affected soprano (as if to hint at the performance that is gender, without forcing the issue). Instead, Hval adopts the kind of electric organ you’d find in a small suburban church, as her lead instrument; The Boatman’s Call aside, it’s most likely to evoke boring Sundays, and twee outdated values you can’t believe anyone could hang onto.
Part feminist intellectual, part Scandinavian dreamer, Jenny Hval lives in a world littered with evocative juxtapositions. On her fifth album (and first for indie tastemakers Sacred Bones), the Oslo singer-songwriter balances Björkian levels of vocal mysticism with experimental spoken-word stylings that recall Laurie Anderson. Apocalypse, girl is a shift toward orchestral pop after the noisy rock of 2013's Innocence Is Kinky, but Hval loses none of her avant-garde inclinations in the process.
In 1969 feminist Carol Hanisch wrote an essay called The Personal Is Political. It was her response to criticism that the 'consciousness raising' meetings she was organising were not political, but personal. The meetings were therapy, said the critics; navel-gazing at the expense of bringing down the system. "They belittled us no end for trying to bring our so-called personal problems into the public arena - especially all those body issues like sex, appearance and abortion," Hanisch wrote.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about those smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar. Don’t miss out on the smaller, lesser-known gems which might become some of your favourites. We’ve rounded up seven of the best new album releases from this week: catch up ….
Norwegian singer/composer Jenny Hval's latest offering features scrapped-together noise collages, fractured spoken word pieces and genuine pop songs driven by stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The intimate collection of low-key art pop is gloriously weird and deeply human. First single That Battle Is Over could go toe-to-toe with any alt-folk tune left of the dial.
In March, the Norwegian musician Jenny Hval stalked a stage in Providence and bewitched an audience with her strange brew of theatrics and brittle art rock. The music churned, murky and tense, provoking you to think well beyond what Hval was saying, but rather how she was saying and presenting it. The performance recalled the work of fellow renegades Yoko Ono and Laurie Anderson.