Review Summary: [review pending]
Language is the issue at the heart of Innocence is Kinky
: how it changes by dialect, accent, personality, interpretation. “The voice,” Jenny Hval posits on “The Seer”, the album’s closing track, “is a wordless tissue, the fog from Heart of Glass
. Listen to the lips that feed you.” Who feeds you? For what are we listening? Why the fog from Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass
(an infamous little movie where the actors underwent hypnosis)? Hval will answer these questions, but only in the abstract; her aims are for provocation, surely, which is nothing especially new in this digital landscape. But more importantly, Hval means to steer the conversation onto itself, taking many folks to task for their role in the presentation of gender and sexuality in the public view, and does so by cultivating a new sound and appropriations of well-worn (now shimmering, damning) genre tropes.
Which is to say: man, this album rocks. Hval’s aim is unwieldy, rounding out delicate folk reminiscent of 2011’s more spacious Viscera
with feedback scorched rock tunes treated with the same scope and fervor that marked that auspicious solo debut. Some songs find the head-turning meeting point between them, as one does in the standout “Is There Anything On Me That Doesn’t Speak?”, which plots out its movements in the seconds. Hval’s vocal performance is of the highest order in these moments, stretching her register every which direction, pitching them aggressively or in a delicate way. She is, ah, amphibious, androgynous, playing a foil to traditional roles accepted of women who make music, a process she nearly perfects in the process. In this way, her most prominent modern peer might be Swans’ Michael Gira, another musician who tackles contemporary ideas of masculinity in rock music and art’s role in challenging it.
But again, language is the issue at the heart of Innocence is Kinky
. “I try to write love songs,” on “Amiphibious, Androgynous”, “but my words remain in my hands and my hands fall to the floor. Somewhere in the distance something hurts.” Larger issues plague Hval, and she comes to them by framing them in the minutiae. The evocation of Reneé Falconetti is Hval’s largest tip to the listener, but I won’t undermine the album by explaining it here. To listen to Innocence is Kinky
is to hear some of the best music you will hear this year or any, on its surface alone. But to listen to Innocence is Kinky
is also to engage with it, to be challenged, and to learn. To hear its language on its own terms: by its dialect, accent, personality, interpretation. In 2013, a year particularly talkative (for the good and the bad) about the state of sexuality, gender, and female artists in the mainstream, Jenny Hval’s Innocence is Kinky
was, and continues to be, one of the most vital conversations to be enjoyed on the subject.