Saturday 20 July 2019

Jenny Hval - Ashes to Ashes

Jenny Hval’s last project was the highly acclaimed Blood Bitch: a disorienting album embroiled in menstrual blood, viscera and, of course, vampires. Meticulously composed, the album was stunning for the sheer size of the sonic toolshed she pulled from, and for the way she pressed the tools, familiar and unfamiliar, into eccentric service. Imagine her emerging from the shed with a scythe but instead of using it to cut weeds she uses it to shear sheep. What?But…what? 90’s pop synths? Of course. Samples of pencils scratching paper? Check. Black metal droning noises? Yep. On the vocal side, Hval similarly employs a full range, from shrieking, to whispering, to panting. While often unsettling, it is an accomplishment that Hval maintains intimacy through the album, drawing us in, compelling us to finish the bizarre story, to keep turning the pages.

With the release of “Ashes to Ashes”, we have our first glimpse of her new album. It is radically different. Gone is the motive to unsettle, to shock. Still, Hval conceives of this project as subversive in another sense: “The Practice of Love is almost subversive in its gentleness—a deep dive into what it means to grow older, to question one’s relationship to the earth and one’s self, and to hold a magnifying glass over the notion of what intimacy can mean.” This album pays homage to the 90’s dance scene, but its efforts to recreate some of those environments feels more like na├»ve nostalgia than mimicry. Hval comments, “The synth sounds are the things I imagined being played at the raves I was too young and scared to attend”. Juxtaposed with the washed-out upbeat synths in this track are assertive and surreal lyrics, breathily delivered: “We had a dream about this song/That I had not written yet/Like I used to dream of fucking before I knew how.”

If there is a through line between her previous album and this single, perhaps it is in the sense of intimacy she is capable of creating, even as her tools and techniques keep her in avant-garde territory. Hval ruminates on the album so extensively and thoughtfully on her bandcamp page that it feels futile for me to muse any longer. This song augurs more wonderful, strange material to come.

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