Jenny Hval ‎– Innocence is Kinky

InnocenceIsKinkyFirst impressions…Wait, I’ll come back to that.

Jenny Hval’s subjects are identity and desire. Although her music is always at the service of her words, Innocence is Kinky strikes a deft balance between lyric poetry and gilded alt-rock extemporisations. “Amphibious, Androgynous”, which could be an anthemic/acoustic PJ Harvey track, is one of Hval’s most musically conservative songs; but its lyric describes intimate erotic reveries: “I dream I have a lover made out of twigs / I snap his legs and snap his lips / when we kiss.”

“Mephisto in the Water” is an experimental narrative cast from lucent poetry, its subtle instrumentation supporting a vocal rendered in multi-track harmony; its tonal purity connecting with both church and folksong. It’s pretty much the only nod to tradition on an alluring album of considerable formal and expressive daring.

Hval’s vocal delivery is boldly expressive, and can be rawly emotive. On “Death of the Author”, however, she speak-sings in intimate lulls, caresses, and whispers, tremulousness connoting the daring of intimacy. On the album’s title track, this daring shades into drama. Here she communicates with the certainty of a child’s interiority, all fascinations, solipsistic or otherwise, carrying equal weight.

Innocence is Kinky is Hval’s fourth solo album (two, less ambitious, were recorded as rockettothesky). Here, she plays guitar, keyboards, Variophon synth, sampler, and drum machine, as well as singing. She’s accompanied by Håvard Reite Volden on guitar, drum machine, keyboards, and iPad; and Kyrre Geithus Laastad on drums, percussion, keyboards, and drum machine. Producer John Parish is also a significant musical presence, credited with guitar, bass, detuned drums, banjo, Variophon synth, keyboards, and trombone. Additional textures are provided by Ole-Henrik Moe (violin, viola, wine glass, saw), Espen Reinertsen (saxophone), and Kari Rønnekleiv (violin). Despite all those inputs it’s a subtly crafted album.

Parish is best known from his collaborations with PJ Harvey, but Hval/Harvey comparisons don’t bear too much weight. Both women subvert the conventions of alternative rock, and both address sexual themes, sometimes, with unabashed frankness. But where Harvey, in her early works at least, sought, seemingly, to emulate a libidinous old bluesman’s wang dang doodle, Hval’s earthiness is more esoteric; she’s more arthouse than roadhouse.

Still, Parish’s production work, being drier and more earthy than the luminous sound Deathprod achieved on Hval’s 2011 album, Viscera, on which Volden and Laastad also played, helps to emphasise the viscerality of Hval’s obsessions.

Volden, incidentally, also partners the apparently restlessly creative Hval in Nude On Sand. In other media: she has written on gender and identity politics; also a novel, Perlebryggeriet, which blurs prose into song lyrics. The title of a recent sound art installation, A Continuous Echo of Splitting Hymens, is recast here in the lyric to “Give Me that Sound”, where Hval, an unabashed dissector of her own psyche, sings: “I want to sing like a continuous echo of splitting hymens.”

The present album has an interesting back story. In 2011, Hval created music for a silent movie concert. The film was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928). The Henie Onstad Art Centre subsequently commissioned a site-specific sound and light installation, which Hval titled Innocence is Kinky. Her preparations also yielded a book (Inn i ansiktet (Sings with her Eyes)) and the present album.

Hval says La passion de Jeanne d’Arc inspired her “to work with the idea of the female face on-screen”. She conflated Dryer’s unrelenting scrutiny of actress Renée Falconetti’s face with horror and porn imagery: “an overexposed Paris Hilton in night vision, Nancy from a Nightmare on Elm Street laying in a bathtub, reeking with fear. Meanwhile: “I found myself getting more and more aggressive on stage with the Viscera material…I wanted to sing louder, channel this energy, sharpen all edges, loosen the structures.

“I became obsessed with a Michael Gira interview where he talks about the sound of his voice and the sound of his music as a visceral happening…The installation places this sonic body, this I, in relation to the brutality, chaos, authority and sexuality of sound…it investigates the idea of a vocal self, and this self as dominance and self-obliteration.”

The title Innocence is Kinky, by the way, is a pun on Einstürzende Neubauten’s Silence is Sexy (Blixa Bargeld being another Hval favourite). It’s the only thing about this album that doesn’t quite work, although Hval takes her best shot at convincing otherwise when she verbalizes it during “Oslo Oedipus”.

Lest you think Hval is all wrapped up in narcissism, she also accepts that events in the real world—the 2011 Oslo bombing and Utøya Massacre—”couldn’t not influence anything made at that time…It’s about the cruelty of the mediated image.”

Having contextualised the work, let’s return to first impressions.

The first line of the first lyric on Viscera is: “I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris”; the first on Innocence is Kinky: “That night, I watch people fucking on my computer”. These are eminently quotable lines, which certainly grab the listener’s attention. But such provocative opening gambits could be, like Corinne Day’s infamous, self-explanatory photograph, “My Bloody Knickers”, as likely to repel as to lure listeners in. If so, look deeper, or take your listening more lightly: focus on Hval’s understated humour, and her beguiling way with a melody.

All quotations from press notes and the website jennyhval.com.

Related Posts
Jenny Hval and Phaedra at The Borderline, March 2012
Sidsel Endressen & Stian Westerhus – Didymoi Dreams
Hanne Hukkelberg – Featherbrain

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