Album | Jenny Hval – Innocence is Kinky

jenny hval

With 2011 album, Viscera, Jenny Hval achieved a surprising hit, garnering generally favourable – if slightly perplexed –  reviews, and a spot in Uncut’s ‘Top 50 Albums Of 2011’. ‘Surprising’(particularly for boys club, Uncut) because Viscera was an experimental, part-spoken word, avant-garde-inspired record exploring female sexuality and bodies in the city. Of its many memorable lines were the lyrics, ‘I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.’

Now the pioneering Norwegian is back, presumably with her toothbrush, and the challengingly-titled Innocence is Kinky, a mind-blowing concoction of viscera, bodies, urban space, myth, sex and the female body. As with Viscera, strong echoes of Hval’s previous musical incarnation, rockettothesky, abound, jostling for attention through dirty synths and pulsing beats. Elsewhere, scuzzy guitar riffs square up to  programmed sounds while a disconcerting array of bleeps and blips drop into the equation.

Fittingly for a record shaped by the body and its functions, Hval’s voice is the primary instrument, by turns seductive, playful, alienating and alien. Sweet, gentle and ethereal in ‘Mephisto In The Water’, rougher and more banshee-like on ‘I Got No Strings’, Hval’s base point is her clear, spoken word voice which surfaces on almost every track. Most disconcertingly, she isn’t afraid to sound ugly or mad, sometimes wailing, screaming and pushing the limits of her own vocal chords. We could go all Hélène Cixous on her, claiming that this is the sound of a ‘feminine language.’ Mainly, though, it’s just refreshing to hear a woman yelling her head off and not being ashamed of it.

Equally integral are the lyrics – biting, ironic, tender or, as in the very first line, shockingly confessional: ‘At night, I watch people fucking on my computer…’ Such bold statements refuse to fit nicely into accepted notions of female behaviour – Women? Porn? A woman watching porn rather than being watched? A wrecking ball is also taken to boundaries between gender, bodies and cities – at one point Hval intones ‘I am Oslo Oedipus’ while in ‘Renee Falconetti Of Orleans’ she muses, ‘For a hundred days you are a virgin, or a young boy, you are not sure,’ before spitting out in clipped tones, ‘I’m never sure – innocence is just too kinky isn’t it?’

For those already running for the hills, Innocence isn’t all intellectual musing and avant-garde styling – there’s enough structure, melody and drive to appease those who don’t err on the ambient side. ‘I Got No Strings’ beats to the same, pulsing drum beat and neurotic guitars as Viscera’s excellent ‘Blood Flight’, Hval’s vocal frenetic, impulsive, but never out of control. ‘I Called’ is grungy, lo-fi rock set to an electronic storm and ‘Amphibious Androgynous’ is a meditative, melodic , off-kilter beauty. Elsewhere, surprising moments of clarity, coherence and simplicity emerge where least expected.

As with Viscera, Innocence is Kinky is a project greater than the sum of its parts – an attempt not merely to carve a space for the artist’s voice but to invent new channels and modes for it. In Hval’s subversion of all we think a record should be, she forges a voice for the female artist in ways that are compelling, disturbing, beautiful, ugly, and really quite wonderful.

 

Comments