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Jenny Hval practices love in ethereal new album

| Friday, November 1, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

Jenny Hval’s spooky new album “The Practice of Love” poetically analyzes otherness, intimacy and purpose to the sounds of ‘90s electronic trance music. 

Norwegian avant-garde musician and writer Hval released her seventh album Sept. 13. Hval’s last album “Blood Bitch,” which centered around vampires, menstruation, 1970s horror movies and femininity, demonstrated her humor and intellect. “The Practice of Love” retains the wicked smart commentary of this last work, while evolving toward a more poetic, accessible and broad expression of human experience. The lyric driven songs — often resembling journal entries or conversations — craft inescapable intimacy. 

The first song “Lions” begins with random bursts of noise, then introduces a somber and suspenseful techno beat which builds to later moments of dance and euphoria. Hval begins by commanding her audience to “Look at these trees / Look at this grass / Look at those clouds.” Next, she insists the listener take a closer look, this time at the ants, raindrops and flowers. She asks “Where is God?” and her ultimate conclusion is “This place doesn’t care.” Instead the wind is “whispering a pagan psalm.”

“High Alice” comes next, bringing forth references to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland,” which continue throughout Hval’s work. The song tells of Alice taking a rest, and questioning what creatures have been drawn to over the centuries. Hval decides that “We all want something better.” The song is peppered with lasting imagery, like her depiction of “the ocean / Where I wrote my first poem.” The rhythmic music marches along with Hval as she looks for some meaning or motivation in existence. 

Hval carries this momentum forward with “Accident,” a song about about childlessness and the ensuing search for purpose. Hval sings “Once she was the mystery of life” and “just an accident.” Now, “she is flesh in dissent,” made to write and burn. 

“The Practice of Love” overlays a monologue about the word love with a conversation about an individual’s evolutionary importance, or lack thereof. Hval and her collaborators — Laura Jean and Vivian Wang — blend and mesh in the work, emphasizing the beauty of shared experience and wisdom. They discuss their secondary roles in the story of humanity as witches or talking trees, while song swells, nearly bursting at the conclusion. 

The meta, dream narrative in “Ashes to Ashes” reflects on songwriting and death to a sunny soundtrack of upbeat, synth-pop. “Thumbsucker” follows with an echoing saxophone as Hval reflects on identity and “internal construction work” in a wild landscape. Next, “Six Red Cannas” provides a metaphysical moment, debating the song’s ability to communicate with dead and referencing Georgia O’Keefe and Joni Mitchell. The album ends with “Ordinary,” where Hval admits to “giving into ordinary” and letting go of control in intimacy.

Jenn Pelly of Pitchfork eloquently describes the journey as “a chorus of speaking, singing, thinking and conversing, the life of the active mind happening in real time.” The basis in the cheap and common synth pop music of the ‘90s complements Hval’s outstanding, unique brilliance. Hval’s hand turns mundane beats into a swirling hypnosis. Whether her sound is a weird cousin of Enya, as youtube comments often insist, or the love child of Bjork and Kate Bush, this album reassures that Hval will continue to push boundaries and enchant like her predecessors. 

Artist: Jenny Hval

Album: “The Practice of Love”

Label: Sacred Bones Records

Favorite Tracks: “Ashes to Ashes,” “Ordinary,” “Accident”

If you like: Kate Bush, Bjork, Weyes Blood, Bat for Lashes, Perfume Genius, St. Vincent

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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