Bleed In Sympathy With Her: Jenny Hval Mesmerizes With ‘Blood Bitch’
Norwegian musician Jenny Hval has called her sixth album “an investigation of blood that is shed naturally—the purest and most powerful yet most trivial and most terrifying blood.” The avant-pop artist long has been obsessed with the body and its effluvia, and here she taps into a deep, rich vein of provocative art obsessed with menstrual blood, as many fans have delighted in pointing out in multiple footnoted accolades. What much of that (deserved) praise misses, however, is how devilishy funny Hval can be. “I wonder, do vampires menstruate?” she asks in a YouTube “trailer” for the new album.
Vampirism is the other key inspiration for these 10 tracks, and as Hval and fans of Anne Rice or True Blood will eagerly testify, the children of the night can, of course, be sexually fluid—another favorite topic for the artist—as well as being irresistibly hypnotic. Co-produced by Hval and noise maven Lasse Marhaug, who also collaborated on last year’s Apocalypse, girl, the tracks are lush yet minimal, driven by slow, tense grooves and full of dark atmospherics that sometimes yield to beautiful melodies, with the vocals ranging from an enticing coo to a flat monotone to a mysterious whisper. You may hear echoes of Kate Bush, Bjork, Laurie Anderson, and even the Nordic death metal that the artist loved in her teens. But Hval ultimately is an original who never sounds entirely like anyone else.
Sure, blood has been used as a metaphor as well as the raw material of art forever. But tracks such as “Female Vampire” and “Period Piece” make us consider anew what it means to us, and why it can alternately repel, attract, and horrify. (“Don’t be afraid,” the singer intones at one point. “It’s only blood.”) And Hval doesn’t even need lyrics or music to get us thinking: The simplest, most undeniable moment on the album comes during “In the Red,” when the ominous orchestration yields to a long passage consisting only of the artist’s heavy breathing, conjuring… what? Frantic lust? Ravenous hunger? Desperate fear? All of the above? The ambiguity is the charm.
Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.