It’s almost overwhelming how much has been written about Jenny Hval this past year.
It’s almost overwhelming how much has been written about Jenny Hval this past year. From music blogs to even philosophical journals, the Norwegian singer is resonating with everyone up and down the cultural spectrum and when you really take the time to examine her new record, Apocalypse, girl, it’s painfully obvious why.
Hval’s third record, out this past June on Sacred Bones, is a staggering statement that both lyrically and musically pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable in rock music. Hell, even the album’s cover is worth a thousand word dissertation considering all of the possible ways one could take the image of Hval slumped over an exercise ball. For someone who once wrote a thesis paper of her own on Kate Bush, the idea of a dissertation of an unflattering picture of her is downright exciting. “Please write about my work,” she exclaimed to us. “In ways I would never imagine.”
One thing Hval probably couldn’t have imagined would be the way critics have latched on to some specific lines or phrases used in her songs in order to use them to describe her music as a whole. While the songs definitely carry the singer’s personality and general opinions, it’s almost absurd for someone to ever use a phrase from a song to describe the musician’s entire sonic identity. Imagine talking to a friend just discovering The Beatles and you describe their music as “crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess” songs. It’s almost disrespectful for the artist and for Hval, that disrespect is almost popping up in the form of the phrase “soft dick rock,” which is becoming more and more associated with her music even though it really is just a line in a song.
“I would never call my music “soft dick rock”, as some have written that I do, but I find it interesting to use such strong phrases inside a web of way more complex lyrical language. This reflects what I’m like. I’m at a venue right now, in the middle of sound check, and I’ve been sitting silently in this room with people around me, quietly contemplating this interview until a kind of tough Australian guy noticed my soft dick rock-t-shirts and said, “That’s the worst I’ve ever seen! Like it’s flaccid?!” I all of a sudden yelled out: “Soft dick rock–it’s the greatest thing ever!” Because I’d made him really sing on the word “flaccid” throughout the entire bar. It’s still echoing here. Flaccid, flaccid, flaccid said by a tough Australian guy. I love the world.”
As you can read, Hval is almost fearless when it comes to the lyrics she’ll put in a song. It’s hardly a crutch for her since the socially taboo lyrics help bridge thoughts and ideas leading you closer and closer to that triumphant epiphany hidden in each song. It’s such an effective tool that when she proclaims “I feel like my body is a cushion” on “Some Days,” you instantly pay full attention to what follows as she completes her thought with expert precision. It’s a writing technique few songwriters in history could pull off as flawlessly as she does and it almost makes you wonder if Hval is even capable of shame in any regard.
“For me, it’s about doing something that feels needed and contemporary, and that is complex way beyond using uncomfortable language. I worked a lot with depictions of failed humans on this album, an intimacy that specifically resists the capitalist narrative of sexual success. Perhaps that is why I reference the expression “soft dick rock”, and talk about holding onto your genitals in bed at night when you can’t sleep. Scenes like that.”
Apocalypse, girl is not an album to take lightly in any regard and as weird as it may sound, it almost plays out like an episode of Gilmore Girls. From song one up until the end, references and influences whip past your head so fast it takes you multiple listens and a mastery of Google to even catch them. From poet Mette Moestrup to political scientist Francis Fukuyama, it seems no stone is left unturned when it comes to influences on the album, even if Hval points to the cinema as her big muse.
“For this album, film was very important. Todd Haynes’ Safe (for its thoughts on health, fear and capitalism, domestic sci-fi) and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (for its narration in close-ups and brilliant portraits of two strong characters through monologue) were particularly interesting, and perhaps also Daisies by Vera Chytilova (fantastically surrealist).”
Despite the incredible amount of referenced artists, directors, and writers, Hval even found herself being influenced by the music itself. Most of the album’s lyrics were penned before even stepping foot in the studio, but some sections (and at least one full song) came about strictly from the mysterious place where instrumental music speaks to your soul.
“‘Holy Land,’ as a music piece, was originally without words, but this vocal line came in quite late in the album recording. I felt the music was saying something about weightlessness and dissolution, and so it became this repeated line that crosses over from religious longing to death drive, to the drive to just never have been born. It was interesting. I didn’t see it coming.”
Hval’s new work might not go down as the best record of the year or even in the top ten, but it has created plenty of lively conversations (and in some instances, heated debates) between music lovers about a plethora of concepts and ideas in regards to music, lyrics, and even just art in general. Much like the works of arts she so ardently references, Apocalypse, girl is an album whose true worth is measured in the way it opens your mind up to new ideas. It’s a record we’ll be talking about for probably years to come and even then, we’ll have just barely scratched the surface on what is undoubtedly Hval’s best work to date.