album review: jenny hval – apocalypse, girl;

This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.

Trying to pigeonhole Apocalypse, girl, Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s third album under her own name, is like trying to grab onto a snake that is in the process of shedding its skin. It’s a simile that you can’t help thinking Hval would enjoy: “Kingsize”, the spoken word performance poem that opens the album, employs what might be an extended metaphor about bananas rotting in her lap – although it could just be about bananas.

The word “album” itself barely seems to fit Hval’s work. It has nominal track divisions, but repeated themes and lyrical snippets cause the lines to blur. Sexual imagery, being “taken care of” – sometimes as a stand-in for masturbation and sometimes not – and the skewering of gender roles feature heavily: shaving in all the right places and learning to bake. Only “That Battle is Over”, with its mesmerising melody and Hval speak-sleep-singing something of a stream-of-consciousness manifesto, stands alone as a song: the rest is like trying to make pictures from television static, and when it finally clicks you won’t know whether it’s because it has started making sense or has finally driven you mad.

It helps that Hval is so funny. Her potty mouth and her wry observations keep the listener grounded during the likes of “Heaven” – which opens as if eavesdropping on her, naked and vulnerable and making up a song as she’s in the shower, and ends like an electro banger – and 10-minute album closer “Holy Land”, ending in the grunts and moans that take the themes explored in previous chapters to their logical conclusion. Like the Danish poet Mette Moestrup, quoted in the album’s opening lines, Hval is thinking big. The result is uncomfortable, creepy and curiously moreish.

MOAR LYG:  my past life was a blast;

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