Jenny Hval

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

Rockettothesky: To Sing You Apple Trees (2006) , 5.5/10
Rockettothesky: Medea (2008) , 6/10
Viscera (2011), 7.5/10
Innocence Is Kinky (2013), 6.5/10
Meshes of Voice (2014), 6/10
Apocalypse Girl (2015), 5/10
Blood Bitch (2016), 4/10
The Practice of Love (2019), 4/10

Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval started out disguised under the moniker Rockettothesky with the verbose and rudimentary To Sing You Apple Trees (Trust Me, 2006), containing the rocking Barrie for Billy Mackenzie (like Alanis Morissette covering the Cranberries), the piano elegy On Cherry Tree Song, and good demonstrations of her ability to transition smoothly from spoken-word to bluesy/yodeling styles (I Stepped On A Toothbrush for only voice and guitar). Rockettothesky's second album Medea (Trust Me, 2008), produced by Supersilent's Helge "Deathprod" Sten, marked significant progress in terms of arrangements and structures, resulting in a more eclectic panorama: evocative pop (Song of Pearl), exotic synth-pop (The Dead Dead Waterlily Thing) and a unique form of acid folktronica (the lengthy, sparse, spectral, spaced-out Chorus for voice and electronic soundscape), with a peak of pathos in the crystal hymn of Grizzly Man, that harks back to catacombs and convents.

She also published the novel "Perlebryggeriet" (2009).

If those first albums were mainly meant as a display for her virtuoso melismatic vocals, Viscera (Rune Grammofon, 2011), arranged with Havard Volden (guitars and psaltery) and Kyrre Laastad (percussion and keyboards), upped the ante dramatically. After the etheral Engines In The City, the album delivers seven mid-length meditations/confessions a` la Jane Siberry. This time the music is a calculated surgical factor: a suspenseful, harrowing soundscape for the theatrical recitation of Blood Flight, delicate strumming for the ecstantic convent-like chanting of How Gentle, an almost psychedelic tide embraces the dejected, languid lament of Golden Locks, eerie background noise transpires from the silence of the whispered a-cappella eight-minute soliloquy This Is A Thirst. It is not only atmosphere: the childish narration of Portrait Of The Young Girl As An Artist uses a monotonous clockwork rhythm that suddenly soars into a grunge-y riff (and its coda disappears in a vortex of cosmic noise); echoes of ancient Irish elegies transpire beneath the calm surface of Milk Of Marrow, and the haunting Black Morning/ Viscera harks back to even older traditions.

Hval also sang on Nude on Sand (Sofa, 2012).

The arrangements on Innocence Is Kinky (Rune Grammofon, 2013) are a bit too sophisticated, pushing the feathery Innocence Is Kinky into soul-jazz ballad territory before it explodes into garage-rock hysteria. The textures of many songs are thinner and sparser than ever. Nonetheless, the effect can be mesmerizing, angelically introverted in Mephisto In The Water, tensely hypnotic in Amphibious Androgynous, almost raga-psychedelic in The Seer, and cosmically abstract in Oslo Oedipus. And there is room for "rocking" moments like the uptempo I Called, disfigured by a distorted synth, and the careening I Got No Strings, a display of her melismatic style. Unfortunately, Hval indulges in theatrical declamation (Renee Falconetti Of Orleans, Is There Anything On Me That Doesn't Speak?) that is not adequately supported by the music. The songs are short, having abandoned both the elaborate soundscapes and the repetitive structures of Viscera.

Meshes of Voice (SusannaSonata, 2014) documents a 2009 collaboration with fellow Norwegian singer/songwriter Susanna Wallumrod, ostensibly inspired by Maya Deren's surrealist film "Meshes Of The Afternoon" (1943). The duets are slow and austere, sparsely arranged with piano, guitar and electronics. Alas, not many of the duets stand out: the ethereal Running Down over sparse electronic noises that seem to evoke the decomposition of flesh, the folk-ish lullaby A Mirror In My Mouth, and the lively cabaret-ish Medusa. Most of the arrangements are irrelevant, if not detrimental. The shroud of deafening dissonance in Black Lake is not exactly genius. The pristine wailing hymn in echoing quantum void of Thirst That Resembles Me (another highlight) segues into the sinister psychedelic maelstrom of I Have A Darkness which, alas, ends with a similar trivial effect. Better is the hyper-psychedelic trance of I Have Walked This Body, with the vocals swallowed by similar monster distorted drones that this time make sense. The album contains several intriguing ideas (especially Running Down, Thirst That Resembles Me and I Have Walked This Body), but it doesn't feel that working with a partner helped Hval to eviscerate those ideas. Apocalypse Girl (Sacred Bones Records, 2015), produced by Norwegian avantgarde composer Lasse Marhaug, opens with a tedious spoken manifesto, followed by more recitation in Take Care of Yourself. When the music finally begins, That Battle Is Over is just an innocent Alanis Morissette-sque lullaby and Why This? is a danceable lounge ballad. Heaven is a Bjork-ian madrigal, wrapped in a constantly mutating arrangement (from electronic to neoclassical), with a magniloquent ending. Angels and Anaemia is the kind of ethereal shapeless lied that she has concocted before but this time the confused arrangement doesn't help. The most poignant intuition, the Diamanda Galas-esque White Underground, lasts only two minutes. And so the album's existence truly relies on the ten-minute Holy Land: its ghostly electronic soundscape is largely sculpted by Lasse Marhaug, and she basically only contributes the vocal sounds that he manipulates and incorporates. Except for this last piece, this is her "pop" album.

In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper (Hubro, 2016) was guitarist and composer Kim Myhr's second collaboration with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra after Stems and Cages (2009). An entirely acoustic project, it was premiered at a music festival in 2012 and recorded in August 2014 almost at the same time as Myhr's masterpiece All Your Limbs Singing (august 2014). Her vocals, however, are the weakest element of the eight-minute Mass. At best her contribution in songs such as Me, You, Me, You recalls a less austere version of the Art Bears. The last two pieces do more justice to her vocal skills, first Even The Vowels and then the highlight, Silence A Beat, where finally the creative accompaniment blends with her eccentric stream of consciousness in a magical atmosphere.

Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones, 2016), again produced and arranged by Lasse Marhaug, is a concept album about menstruation and/or vampires. There is very little that she hasn't said before, and said it in much better ways. The single Female Vampire mixes pummeling pulsation and an intermittent distortion to evoke the spirit of the Sisters Of Mercy but then the singing mutates into a droning abstraction. That's the most original song. The other single Conceptual Romance simply displays her vocals skills with a melismatic Middle-eastern intonation. The Great Undressing is a fairly obnoxious dance-pop ballad with swirling and bubbling synth lines that harken back to the 1980s. Silly arrangements cannot redeem silly songs like Secret Touch nor the pointlessly lively third single, Period Piece. There are also annoying spoken-word sections that further test the listener's patience. One can find solace in the soundsculpting of In the Red, whose rhythm is derived from a loop of terrified panting and industrial clanging, and whose dramatic tension is created by a sudden loud hissing; but it's too little and not particularly groundbreaking. The six-minute audio collage of The Plague is initially promising but then it becomes obvious that Marhaug is simply gluing together leftovers of their recording sessions: Indian tabla playing, port sirenes, echoed sobbing in a cavernous room, voices multiplied and refracted, another voice screaming terrified, crackling campfire, an organ drone mixed with the sound of a helicopter, a childish tune while the fire picks up, and then the record suddenly stops. Neither entertaining nor intriguing.

The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones, 2019) signaled a shift from that uncertain art-pop to an enthusiastic adoption of the transglobal dance of the 1990s, a throwback to the era of Enigma and Natacha Atlas. Her acrobatic singing gets repurposed to mimick exotic styles. Her ethereal whisper in Lions sounds like a Chinese folk chant, but drugged with a euphoric polyrhythm. High Alice couples convulsed drumming and sensual crooning a` la Sade with a Brazilian intonation Ashes to Ashes, the commercial apex of the album, is mainly a buoyant Giorgio Moroder-ian disco locomotive over which Hval impersonates a female version of the Pet Shop Boys. If the music is consistently trivial, Hval's vocal art is at the peak. The thumping techno of Six Red Cannas propels a sophisticated phrasing that bridges Bollywood melodramas and sensual disco diva. The guest vocalists (Vivian Wang, Felicia Atkinson, and Laura Jean Englert), instead, are not only under-utilized but, when they are, they tend to be a painful distraction (as in the title-track).

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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