Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jenny Hval - Apocalypse, Girl Review

It may be ironic but the genre so consistently met with experimental fingerprints is the one often-regarded for lacking creative clarity; Pop music. Even absurdist electronic artist Dan Deacon is now referring to himself as a Pop artist, and why shouldn't he? The catchiness pours out the seams of his music, the rampant experimentation just a means to an end. The lines are becoming more blurred though, as art begins to engulf itself with a litany of influences one project can only feasibly handle, the definitions are fluid, the restrictions loosened. No longer are works relegated to their respective mediums, a musical artist can now find inspiration from a movie, book, or real life and incorporate that, sometimes quite literally, into their product. What results are artists like Jenny Hval, taking as much from visual art or poetic refrains as she does music, that final frontier just being her source of expression. Transgressive Art Pop is what most would call her. She uses spoken word with touching serenity like Suzanna Vega, incorporates an all-encompassing body of instruments subtly malnourished like Radiohead's Amnesiac, emphasizes a fragile, yet confident vocal range like Bjork, and releases sexual wanderlust as earnest as a private diary confession. This is her latest piece of abstract art, this is Apocalypse, girl.

As is the case with abstract art, you take from it what you get. Nothing is given to you directly, the picture isn't properly assembled, the meaning isn't scrawled out in a title, it's merely a work to reflect something beyond simple descriptors. Not all of Jenny Hval's latest reaches for this pinnacle, but there are moments clear as day that embellish that standard, as seen best on the opener, 'Kingsize.' It's less of a transparent piece and more a smattering collage of Apocalypse, girl's bevy of topics, dominated by Hval's in-your-face acceptance of sex in its most primitive form. There's a severe lack of a consistent theme, even sex here has numerous metaphors being implicated all at once, coagulating atop itself to the point where only nonsensical phrases spew out. The sounds, disjointed and jarring, parallel this combustion, with 'Kingsize' acting, both lyrically and sonically, like a microcosm of Apocalypse, girl with the air sucked out of it. There's grand thematic progression on the album itself too, with tracks leaking into one another routinely. The opening line to 'That Battle Is Over,' for example, is the title of the previous song, "what is it to take care of yourself," Hval questions.

Apocalypse, girl seems, fittingly, like the aftermath of post-modern society. It may be Hval's own coming of terms with a Capitalist society in disarray, where any acknowledged sex is tabooed, Religion restricts progression, and women are forced to believe they're equal. On the stunning 'That Battle Is Over' Hval sarcastically cheers that "feminism is over, and socialism is over, I can consume what I want now," a chant only declared by those who are devoid of oppression and thrive off contentment. Elsewhere, like on the breathtaking 'Heaven,' Hval questions life and death, "falling straight to heaven" whilst eerily seeing "so much death" surrounding her. Much of Apocalypse, girl deals with modern religion, or, it's new-found revival amongst a consumerist society. On the album's 10-minute drone closer, 'Holy Land,' Hval reaches this destination through a desolate abyss, only able to squeak out her location, "when I went to America," she autonomously declares before a fervor of gasps let out to signal her death. Her demise was foreshadowed on the opener where she utters "there is no sub-culture, I see no future," the mundanity of everyday life transforming us all into a mindless herd, perpetually lured in by the allure of materialism, a la a new religion.

What really ties Hval's latest together is its innate sense of sound, assembling a nearly perfect symmetry of experimental splotches, contemporary beats, and candid silence. The variety is spawned due to the albums progression, with each part acting as a puzzle piece to filling its idiosyncratic formula, leaving nothing in excess. Pealing back the surface of Apocalypse, girl it becomes clear just how barebones it is, failing to reach 40 minutes despite one track taking up over a fourth of the entirety. With a spoken word opening, a hollowed interlude ('White Underground'), a blurred delusion that lasts less than a minute ('Some Days'), and the drone closer there's really only six traditional tracks here, emphasizing a moment-to-moment approach that capitalizes on brevity. 'Why This?' pools together each definitive sound, beginning with a roaming synth searching for a beat, whilst a hyper-distorted male voice rambling through sentences captures the listeners attention, before an unexpected treat of a beat, complete with a drum-line procession and roaring organ, fill in the gaps of the song. 'Sabbath' brings ambient house to the forefront, reminiscent of The Orb, using its buoyant edifice to tell of a vivid dream Hval had, before flipping things during the chorus to present a two-fold pop song, bouncing off the entering chimes with ease.

Apocalypse, girl isn't without its faults though. For one, the dismantling of typical album structure, as found on her 2013 release Innocence Is Kinky, causes the lack of substantial moments to grate on the listener as there's not much to pluck from here. And secondly, while this is nitpicking, her focus on progressive messages seems lost at times due to her commitment to lyrical inconsistency, leading to many moments of head-scratching as lines like "I'm 607 and dreaming that I am a boy" and "I'm 33 now, that's Jesus age" call for deep thought but fail to conjure up a concrete answer. Small problems aside Jenny Hval's latest work is her most sincere, revealing, and sexy to date. With a firm grasp on sexual lust, treating it as just another sensationalized commodity, Hval seeks to enter territory typically frowned upon in music, a space where sexual innuendos are replaced with direct terminology. There's a true upheaval of art here, a clashing of genres, movements, and meanings to coincide with the human self that is Jenny Hval, a women making personal music to combat the rise of collective consumerist thought, where, while everything shits the bed, we can't help but be content.

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