Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch Review

Jenny Hval's fascination with her feminine side comes in many flavors, all of which, mind you, far surpass any comparable artist when speaking about the self. Her work has always been irrevocably intimate, personal, and, at times, as the world often is, grotesque. On her previous efforts though, like 2015's Apocalypse, girl, Hval hinged feminine conquest within the crux of a larger, more daunting outlook on our capitalistic culture. The same approach engulfed both Viscera and Innocence Is Kinky, which joined lewd moments captured in private and societies reaction to said taboos. Quick to pounce on her growing fame, the Norwegian singer has returned with Blood Bitch, a concept album loosely centered about female vampires and their obsession with blood. Knowing Hval, Blood Bitch goes deeper than the early 2000's teenage emo phase of romanticism, of which her friend pokes fun at on 'The Great Undressing.' Rather, a women's most secretive bodily function, that of menstruation, is the primary topic of discussion. On Blood Bitch, Hval takes her personal accounts far enough to become blurry to the listener, stretching both her Pop side and her avant-garde side to extremes, resulting in a project that strives for greatness but falters under the weight of its own pretensions.

Last year, Apocalypse, girl caught me by surprise by efficiently melding captivating Pop melodies with intersecting moments of experimental refrains. For the bulk of the project, Hval was more concerned with advertising her softer, more harmonic side on whimsical pieces like 'That Battle Is Over' and 'Heaven.' The music matched the lead, even if the content was more heavy-handed. This led to striking pictorials which could charm even the most conservative listener, leaving the darker territory, like the bookended 'Kingsize' and 'Holy Land,' for her devoted followers. On Blood Bitch, Hval recreates this exercise but pulls each half even further, causing a rift amongst the serene beauty shots and the prolonged spoken word monologues. However, while the former explores new territory using condensed measures, like 'Female Vampire' and 'Conceptual Romantic,' which both thrive thanks to their fixated contractions, the other half pushes outwards without a means to reel Hval back in. Choice cuts like 'Untamed Region' and 'The Plague' meander for far too long, harboring aimless abstract ideas, forcing Blood Bitch to constantly resuscitate itself after Hval's done gallivanting her latest batch of philosophical notions.

In other words, the unorthodox Hval worked much better on Apocalypse, girl when music led the fleet, not a concept. On first listen, both the aforementioned tracks can seem appealing, the former containing a sample from Adam Curtis about, essentially, the meaninglessness of life, while the latter throws the kitchen sink at the wall in blood-curdling rage. It's not so much their ideas that flounder, but more so the pain they cause Blood Bitch with their interruptions. It's less of a nuisance, but 'In The Red' perpetuates the same belief, with an out-of-breath Hval gasping for air. The thought is sound, the execution is a different story. With these tracks, and the concept-centric opener and closer, Blood Bitch immediately writes off half its tracks as failing to be musically-inclined, a statement I wouldn't put much into had the concept itself been clearer. However, the Ambient Pop passages are, mostly, sound, with 'Conceptual Romance' winning over my heart thanks to some magnificent production that builds and fluctuates under Hval's crystalized vocals. 'Female Vampire' does the same but with a stronger sense of urgency, using a darker palate that works as an inversion to 'Conceptual Romance's' brighter aura.

While these two stand tall amongst their Blood Bitch counterparts, there are worthy passages to be found on 'Period Piece' and 'Secret Touch.' The former finds Hval creeping over production that bears similarities to her earlier works, using moody percussion to propel her forward, as the latter takes those same drums and pulls their muscles out, leaving a scrawny skeleton that allows for Hval, and an assortment of pulsating synths, to thrive. Viewing Blood Bitch through its menstrual concept, while the lyrics don't paint a concise picture, the production does. The bulk of the sounds are drenched in muffled ambiance, causing pieces to drift, sway, pump, and even regurgitate like a female body going through its monthly ebb and flow. The sounds are ethereal, coated in a musty hue of red, succeeding in recreating both the internal beating of a heart and an external night time visit from a vampire. Once again, this causes a loss in immediate earworms as found on Apocalypse, girl, despite rewarding those who really invest in Hval's personal dilemmas. The pairing of distant relatives 'Ritual Awakening' and 'Lorna' showcase Blood Bitch's evolution, from the cloaked birth of a vampire to its retreat into the shadows, all done through atmospheric production.

If there's one area we can appreciate Blood Bitch over Apocalypse, girl, it's Hval's continued push to these shadows. In an Art Pop age where her female counterparts trample over one another to see who can be the most absurd, obnoxious, and over-the-top, Hval's continued recession to a more personal space is much appreciated. You'll be hard-pressed to find an album as private and secluded as Blood Bitch in 2016. Even tracks like 'Conceptual Romance,' which fills the sonic walls similarly to other Art Pop singles, thrive off their reclusive nature. Seeing Hval investigate her bodily surroundings, especially during a certain time of the month, whilst undergoing physical, emotional, and mental transformations, through the eyes of a vampire, is an aberrant sight to see, and one you almost feel dirty watching over. Towards the end of 'Untamed Region,' Hval speaks of blood pooling on the bed and her urge to touch it. Us bearing witness to the discovery of her "blood powers" feels invasive, as if she's speaking to herself without being aware of the onlookers. This means, as an artistic statement meant to stir reaction, Blood Bitch works. However, the execution feels a little too personal, too unknown, and too despondent for a viewing audience to take in in the same vein as her previous projects.

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