Better late than never. Jenny Hval’s third record under her own name, Apocalypse, Girl, was released a few weeks ago, so why the review now? The record is not an easy one to absorb, but it is essential - each listen unveils a new idea. Hval's progression from 2011’s Viscera through 2013’s Innocence is Kinky, has now taken her into stranger and more compelling lyrical and musical spaces.
Innocence is Kinky certainly espoused a kind of rock music, and the hints of a lineage through to the likes of PJ Harvey was likely enhanced by the presence of (long-term Harvey collaborator) John Parish, but it was still disorientating and strikingly individual. Apocalypse, Girl finds the breathtaking lyrics even less attached to conventional song structures, melodies and instrumentation, doubtlessly aided by the album’s being produced by noise fiend Lasse Marhaug (other collaborators include harpist Rhodri Davies, cellist Okkyung Lee and Swans’ Thor Harris).
That is not to say it lacks melody because that would be deeply unfair and downright inaccurate but Hval’s songs do often take twists and turns that are completely unpredictable. She swings from spoken word to sung lines, and the music reflects this. The lyrics deal (and often arrestingly) with poetically with overlapping matters of gender politics, identity, capitalism, eroticism and religion, intertwined with deeply personal experiences and dream sequences. She is, in many ways, peerless. To seek comparison to other artists an only leads one to others that plough similarly, innately individual furrows (the disparate work of both Julia Holter and Scott Walker spring to mind, for instance).
The lyrics do lead the way throughout much of the record, Hval’s voice alternately/simultaneously intimate, confessional, sarcastic, interrogative, sedate, suggestive, explicit – this is no problem for Hval, she leaves most lyricists in the dust. As if to take a final, mischievously startling turn, the album concludes with ‘Holy Land’, a ten minute, gelatinous, miasmic cloud of drones and tuned percussion, instrumental for its first six minutes. It concludes with her strained breathing – are these exhalations of fear, religious ecstasy, or orgasm? It is a final ambiguity in a record that makes a virtue of defying expectation and easy interpretation.
Andrew R. Hill