Since the release of her debut album in 2006, Jenny Hval has evolved an intimate sound that it uniquely hers. Her latest release ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ is a dreamy concoction of personal soundscapes, unspoken desires and memories inspired by classic science fiction films in which the world is run by auto-erotic choir girls who happen to be punks told through the medium of unimaginable pop.
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Despite arguably being Jenny Hval’s most accessible record, ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ is anything but linear. Hval continues to obsess with how songs are sound and words are utterances, and how these things can appear when reiterated and realigned. Like changing the sound of a chord through the sequence around it, she reuses phrases endlessly, weaving them through the record’s surreal, estranged narrative: “Are we mothering ourselves now?” she asks, again and again, a question unresolved but continuously expanded on. “What is it to take care of yourself?”, she asks, and then again; “What are we taking care of?”, she sings and then pitch-shifts into a baritone groan. These questions roll through different pastiches of sound -- noise, pop, ambient -- and then through different propositions of character and gender. Hval is once more abstracting our preconceived notions of people, bodies and interactions.
Perhaps the most thrilling moment on ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ is “That Battle Is Over”, an organ-synth sermon in which Hval switches between spoken word and high-pitch hums about being projected a gender rather than being allowed to live it for yourself: “Statistics and newspapers tell me I am unhappy and dying, that I need man and child to fulfill me”, she sings, somehow compressing a hundred concerns between one firm acoustic beat that rolls onward. Perception is something Hval has wrangled with continuously through her career, be it through the impervious noise of “Death of the Author” or the clattering folk of ‘Viscera’, but here it’s presented through what some might call pop music, and with reference to pop music: “Merry Christmas, war is over / we’re at the edge of history”. Communicating with us on this level, Hval’s music is somehow more uncomfortable and invigorating than ever -- it feels as though these immense concerns are a part with walking down a busy high street.
Some might call ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ something of a meta record: it seems to wrestle with Hval’s place in the USA as a whole, as well as on a smaller scale in the New York music scene. In a song that mixes between raw, unpleasant natural sound and gorgeously sacred melodies, she tells us that “Heaven” is just a place next to Queens’ train station. On “Holy Land”, a composition of scratchy, repellent drone, she ruminates on her new home: “When I went to America, I found myself not myself / I could not align with the landscape”. Even on “The Battle Is Over”, she seems to reflect on her music’s established role as an investigative type of art: “One of these days everything I write begins with the question: What’s wrong with me?”. Sometimes we forget that Hval is a supreme arranger of sound, and a great writer of words, because she asks us, over and over again, what it means to be those things. In my opinion, she is essential for both: for making amazing music, and then for making it our concern.
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- Apocalypse, Girl by Jenny Hval
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