"What's this album about Jenny?"
"It's about vampires..."
"Well, it's about more than just that, but a large theme of it is vampires..."
"That is so basic! [giggling]"
Or so chimes a conversational intro to The Great Undressing from Norwegian avant-garde provocateur Jenny Hval's latest album, Blood Bitch, an album that is quite frankly as far from basic as they come. The perfect marriage of form and function, where perfect artsy pop is entwined with a ruthless, uncompromising feminist agenda. Jenny Hval has a lot to say, and what better way to deliver it than through this bloodthirsty beast of an album long experiment.
Jenny Hval is a feminist, and Blood Bitch is very forthright in its agenda. For years upon years, natural bodily processes for women are stigmatised in a way that has no parallel with men. It goes without saying that men are never asked "are you on your period?" if they're in a bad mood. In fact, the whole subject of menstruation is something that's brushed under the carpet very regularly, and even bringing it up in conversation carries a lotta social stigma. It doesn't really take a genius to see why this is ridiculous; you know, it's a natural bodily process, et cetera, et cetera, so it's really important that periods are something that can be freely talked about without stigma.
Normalisng is something on Jenny Hval's agenda; on the track I mentioned earlier, In The Red, a syrupy dream-pop song is garnished with Hval's trademark spoken word approach, as she graphically describes period blood in the same way she describes People Fucking On Television in her best known track Innocence Is Kinky. Hval quickly follows it up with the Idioteque-esque slow burner Period Piece on which she utters: "it's just blood."
Despite the fact that Hval gets her agenda across strongly and concisely, nothing on this album ever feels forced. Tracks like Conceptual Romance and Female Vampire are such perfect, elegantly produced art-pop songs that really showcase Hval's penchant for the strange, the headturning and the otherworldly. And whilst these numbers are unmistakably - albeit batshit - pop, the album also gets cosmic and unfamiliar at its tail end, via tracks like the warped dystopia of The Plague and the whirring closer Lorna.
Ultimately, this album will go down not only for its bold, provocative, feminist leanings, but also for it's perfect production and solid songsmithstry. There's a reason that people rave constantly about the Sacred Bones signed Norwegian, and if this doesn't prove to you just why, then perhaps it's time for you to up sticks and leave town.
Words: Cal Cashin
Words: Cal Cashin