‘Apocalypse, Girl’ is a journey into the mind of Norwegian Jenny Hval, balancing between hallucinatory narratives, fact and fiction; joy and pain; restless anxiety and revelation: given voice by confessions from her subconsciousness and fragments of confronting beat poetry. An intoxicating transfixing mixture of multi-coloured shifting found sounds, instrumental loops are the fractured musical backdrops that are decorated by Hval’s unique post-modern, post-feminist voice, and it is truly a unique voice, not just a vocal, slipping between violent, introspective and self-aware spoken word imagery, and fragile vulnerable melodies; this is bold, brave, pop music that dives deep into the abyss.
Jenny Hval‘s been developing her sound since the release of her debut album in 2006 and recently broadening her artistic pallet beyond just music: through working with poets and artists. The genesis for ‘Apocalypse Girl’ was laid when she asked Norwegian noise legend Lasse Marhaug to produce her next record, following a discussion about film soundtracks and a different approach to making music. Hval’s songs are pieced together from solo computer loops and vocal edits to contributions from bandmates Håvard Volden and Kyrre Laastad, before finally exploding into collaborations with Øystein Moen (Jaga Jazzist/Puma), Thor Harris (Swans), improv cellist Okkyung Lee and harpist Rhodri Davis.
Together they crafted a collage of filmic sounds, instrumental loops and fragments of sound and craft them into layered sounds decorated by Hval’s unique intertextual narratives that cut up fragments of pop culture: it bears comparison to the sensory disorientation one feels when watching a David Lynch film or the foreboding of the Blade Runner soundtrack: that plumb into depths where most pop music dare not tread, challenging and quite wonderful all once.
‘Think big, girl, like a king, think kingsize.’ Jenny Hval’s new record opens with a quote from the Danish poet Mette Moestrup. So starts ‘Kingsize’ a fascinating, fractured at times confronting monologue, interspersed with snippets of autobiography: a set of cultural norms underlined by a bricolage of samples. Hval’s illusions to handjobs through the metaphor’s of darkening soft bananas and limp cock rock are both odd, shocking and witty in equal measure. Then into the dreamlike ‘Take Care of Yourself’ a mini-manifesto of self-talk: veering between self-hate and self-love and bewilderment: interspersed with a web of synths and vocalised with her childlike voice. The early Bjork esque- hypnotising dream-like throb of ‘Heaven’ switches from whispers and spoken word and clopping avant-garde textures to swooping extraordinary angelic vocals that dissect the body: naive yet tortured. ‘I’m 33 now, that’s Jesus’s age’… she sings, gliding on the wings of harps into the majestic awe-inspiring ether, before rocking back and forth humming ‘so much death so much death/a home to nowhere.’ And it’s utterly glorious.
‘Are we mothering ourselves now/Since statistics and newspapers tell me that I am unhappy and dying/I need a man and child to make me happy,” implores Hval on the outstanding lead single and ‘That Battle Is Over’ inches closer to the edge of history, powered by a drum beat and a rumbling undercurrent, this sweetly sung melody is undercut with brutal self-doubt borne of modern consumerism culture that holds you down rips apart individual self-worth. This anxious nowhere lullaby that’s vaguely reminiscent of early Lana Del Rey and the soul of a Prince ballad: it’s a document our time is both captivating and constantly disorientating, a line from John Lennon‘s ‘Merry Xmas (War Is Over)’ interjects unexpectedly before the falsetto vocal effect spins off the dial. It sounds utterly original; one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year.
‘Sabbath’ in contrast is like some elliptical dream sequence that switches from sweetly sung Francois pop melodies, to spoken word brutality laced with off-kilter religious imagery and sexual discovery (“It’s about holding and being held”), it’s tortured catholic guilt and double meanings has echoes of Madonna‘s ‘Like A Prayer’, yet it doesn’t sound like it at all. The fragile hymn-like effect of the nakedly introspective identity flux of ‘Angels and Anaemia’ is affecting and subversive. Only the last track ‘Holy Land’ feels lost and meandering at its 10 minutes of aural distortion, but nevertheless it’s still intriguing.
‘Apocalypse, Girl’ delves deep into what it means to be a girl lost in 2015; what it means to be struggling make sense of a world where things we once relied on are crumbling – our bodies, our loved ones, our reality: this is the soundtrack to the end of time, both intensely personal at times and at others universal, equal parts revelatory, overwhelming and frightening as it reaches toward the end times of everything. And it sounds quite extraordinary.