The Norwegian songstress is all over the shop, but this is fascinating stuff
In some circles, Jenny Hval might be perceived as an artist who just happens to be working in the field of sound. In others, she’d be recognised as a wordsmith, a bard, an author, maybe also a feminist. The reality is that Hval is probably all these and more, and her new album, ‘Apocalypse, Girl’, firmly reinforces the point with its opening track, ‘Kingsize’.
Starting with a quote from everyone’s favourite Danish poet Mette Moestrup, ‘Kingsize’ is like a set of cues for a play in which only oblique directions are given. With themes ranging from the philosophical to the mundanity of life via Duchampian absurdity, anthropology, sexuality and baking, ‘Kingsize’ rapidly moves from something sharply evocative to mere words. Those words, however, become increasingly irrelevant compared to the sonic events happening behind Hval’s processed utterances and knowing intonations.
There is a delicate profundity to Hval’s lyrics throughout, though you get the impression that the meaning and the logic are resolutely personal, much like the way that Polly Scattergood flaunted her insecurities on her first album. Or maybe it’s as East India Youth’s William Doyle told Electronic Sound a couple of issues back. Maybe people trouble themselves far too much with what’s going on in the mind of whoever writes the song lyrics.
If we cannot make sense of the message, let us at least focus on the music that Hval has created to act as the carrier. The sounds here consist of harrowing drones, a faltering tapestry of ticks, clicks, glitches, tinny synths, horror film atmospherics and micro sound worlds, sometimes cutting to serene, almost soulful, almost pop passages. A track will morph in a moment from an enveloping ambience to a minimal IDM pulse, from a twisted pop hybrid to electronically sutured jazz to a modern classical passage. Nothing stays still, everything changes, is what these textural creations appear to be saying.
At its lyrical and its musical core, ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ seems to question the point (or pointlessness) of existence. At the same time, the constant shifting back and forth reflects the jump-cut pace and pressures of a 21st century life – the sensory overload, the short-termism, the post-‘Sex And The City’, post-‘Girls’ libertarianism, the hopes, the frustrations, the disappointments. The rapid changes of direction could be described as schizophrenic, although more fairly as stylistic restlessness, while the title and the record cover is perhaps Hval viewing herself, or her art, as a bit of a chaotic disaster.
Quite how Jenny Hval’s band – Håvard Volden, Kyrre Laastad, Jaga Jazzist’s Øystein Moen, Thor Harris from Swans, Okkyung Lee on cello and Rhodri Davis on harp – make sense of all this is anyone’s guess. That they do, and that they can embellish Hval’s musings and loops so seamlessly and evocatively, is undoubtedly the greatest success of ‘Apocalypse, Girl’.