Posted on Apr 20th 2011 01:01 am
Rune Grammofon 2011
10 Tracks. 54mins26secs
The body, this holiest of temples, is the subject of Jenny Hval’s new album, but it is its most visceral functions and primal organs that are the focus of her attention. Blood, piss, spit, sweat, erections, clitoris, eye sockets, tongues, finger nails, pores and skin, senses are all exposed in the cold light of day, used and abused in every song. Yet, if nothing is too crude or taboo for the Norwegian songstress, Viscera is actually a poetic journey like no other, carried by Hval’s deeply moving voice, part Liz Fraser, part Björk, part Mari Boine, yet totally and utterly unique.
Hval made a name for herself as Rockettothesky, under which banner she released two albums, To Sing You Apple Trees (2006) and Medusa (2008). Viscera is quite a different offering. As she shakes off the guise and ditches the pop influences that scoured her previous effort to investigate much more delicate atmospheric musical forms, largely served by acoustic instrumentation upon which Helge Sten, of Deathprod fame, underlines with subtle electronic touches, Hval steps into a much more contrasted terrain, reflected in the intricacy of her melodies and the impressive level of control she has over her vocals. Indeed, it is Hval’s mouth and larynx which should be celebrated above all here. While it sometimes appeared out of control in the past, her performance is here so nuanced and exquisite, at times soft and graceful, at others sharp and angular, solitary of layered into spine-tingling harmonies, it is the focal point around which everything else revolves.
Hval coveys brutal imagery in very angelic fashion, making even the crudest words sound natural and relevant. And she confronts the listener head on on all fronts right from the opening line of Engines In The City, and continues to do so all the way through, from the spellbinding Blood Fight, punctuated by an earthy bass drum and airy guitar motifs, the haunting Golden Locks, first aired on the excellent Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep at the end of last year, to the beautiful pastoral expenses of How Gentle, A Silver Fox and the title track, and the deeply introspective This Is A Thirst, upon which the Deathprod hand can be felt very strongly. On Portrait Of The Young Girl As An Artist, she adopts a much more angular approach as subtle acoustic touches are replaced with heavy stabs of electric guitars, a nod perhaps to her former incarnation, but even here Hval’s voice cuts through to appear at once primeval and ethereal.
There is such urgency throughout this record that it is quite astonishing how Hval manages to retain any lightness in her music, but she does, and Sten picks up on just enough to bring it all to life in sprightly bright colours and tones. Viscera might deal with crude aspects of life, but it does so in an inspired existential fashion that, while one would expect such venture to be voyeuristic and pornographic, it is actually evocative and celebratory. And it is fair to say that the word ‘cunt’ was probably never delivered in any more poetic fashion anywhere than on this utterly flawless record.
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