Review Summary: The unexpected fragility of a mostly unpredictable artist.
If you are already familiar with Jenny Hval's works, The Practice of Love
is not going to challenge your willpower in the way you have experienced with any of Jenny Hval's previous material, especially with 2016's raucous Blood Bitch
. Compared to her previous releases, Hval's seventh output in nine years is surprisingly accessible, and dare I say, musically welcoming, so stop reading, put some headphones on, and enjoy the ride! If you are not familiar with Jenny Hval, well... then you should keep reading.
As a quick introduction, Jenny Hval is a Norwegian musician and performer widely known in the world of arts for her often overwhelming and slightly confusing live performances and mind-bending records. For this new release, Hval has enlisted a good number of musicians and artists from all around the globe, including Anja Lauvdal and Espen Reinertsen from Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, who have previously worked with her some years ago in the collective's In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper
. With Hval acting as the main voice throughout the album, The Practice of Love
also features three different voices from three different places: Vivian Wang, from Singapore's art rock band The Observatory, French sculptor, poet, painter and composer Felicia Atkinson, and Australian singer songwriter Laura Jean Englert.
To talk about the themes encapsulated in a Jenny Hval's record is always a challenge, usually unfruitful and inaccurate, since the extremely abstract mind of the artist doesn't confine to human logic and conventionalisms. But there is always a sort of sponteanous spark that ignites and guides her work. In this case, The Practice of Love
seems to circle around... well, love, obviously, but also touching on the concept of reproduction and the role of women as the key element in the preservation and survival of the human race. That is the shallow take, as the title track unfolds this idea chaotically, with Vivian Wang reading a monologue written by Hval for the film "Something Must Happen", directed by Lasse Marhaug, who also appears as a co-producer for the album. At the same time, a sort of casual conversation between Jenny Hval and Laura Jean happens on the right channel simultaneously, addressing the theme previously mentioned with a pinch of levity while terms like "thousand placentas" float around your left ear. Classic Jenny.
Frankly, this is the "artsiest" moment in the album, which otherwise is a solid display of aerial, electronic pop brimming with gorgeous vocal melodies and stimulating sounds straight from the Hvaleverse
. "Lions" opens the album with simple but sharply spoken words: "Look at these trees, look at this grass, look at these clouds... Look at them now.
" In spite of the seemingly hostile feel of Hval's text, the song is a gentle, airy and heavily atmospheric track. Vivian Wang's voice appears here for the first time, singing a celestial chorus, which creates an interesting contrast with Hval's spoken venom. "High Alice" almost sounds like Post
-era Björk for a moment, before the singer imprints her usual whispering singing style casting away such a mundane comparison. "Accident" flows next, with a Cate Le Bon vibe, introducing Espen Reinertsen's sax briefly as Anja Lauvdal's synths provides the structure where Hval's and Laura Jean's vocals collide forming a stellar chorus.
If I had to choose an introductory track for the masses, my choice would be "Ashes to Ashes", a cross of new age and infectious dance music that I honestly didn't expect from the Norwegian artist at this point in her career. The same can be said about "Thumbsucker" and its nurturing, caressing feel, almost too kind for the unexpected twist of events that I was anticipating on my first listen of The Practice of Love
and that, to my surprise, it never happened.
Jenny Hval's seventh release may be regarded as the artist's more fragile and vulnerable work of her career. The ambitious intent and provocative elements of some of her previous albums is simply not to be found in The Practice of Love
, save for the brief, self-titled interlude. As always happens with Hval, one doesn't know if this is a good or a bad thing, but as it is customary, she delivers the unexpected, this time in the form of a sensational electronic pop album worth checking if only for the mesmerizing soundscapes that, she only knows, might be the last ones you hear before she drags you back to the absurd of future potential works. With Jenny Hval, you really never know.