Jenny Hval at Empty Bottle: photos and review
The latest record by Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval, entitled Innocense is Kinky, was inspired by a sound, light and video installation of the same name, constructed in her hometown of Oslo. The work's centerpiece was a projection of scenes from the silent French film, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc intercut with footage from the Paris Hilton sex tape, Nightmare on Elm Street and European reality shows.
Hval's music contains a similar blend of vulgarity, violence and heightened reality, themes that are somewhat unexpected coming from someone who wrote her masters thesis on the vocal stylings of Kate Bush. Working with frequent PJ Harvey-collaborator John Parish, Hval crafts surprisingly accessible art-rock, reigning in her more experimental tendencies in favor of playful, noisy compositions that leave room for her powerful voice and bold declarations.
In concert, Hval displayed her full range, transitioning from spoken whispers to soaring refrains punctuated by enthusiastic yelps, over the driving pulse of "Blood Flight." Backed only by a drummer and a guitarist, her arrangements were stripped down to their most essential components, which only served to intensify the performance's intimate nature. "Mephisto in the Water" lacked its elegant harmonies while "Oslo Oedipus" was excised of its ambient introduction, but each song benefited from muted instrumentation that exposed its subtleties.
"I want to sing like a continuous echo of splitting hymens," Hval crooned over the thunderous bass of "Give Me That Sound," an explicit simile that nonetheless summed up the performance's lofty intentions. Her songs revel in uncomfortable subject matter, but Hval never loses sight of that fact that making music is an inherently joyful experience. "I'm very interested in those moments where things get out of hand and things fall out of your mouth," she opined in a recent interview with the Village Voice. Those moments are worth sticking around for, especially when the songs they inhabit are equally compelling.