Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2019-09-13
Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love
Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love

Some albums you can just put on in the background. The Practice of Love, the seventh studio album by experimental Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval, requires more intimate attention. Hval’s albums have always been meticulously well-crafted; the lyrics, the music and the overarching theme all skilfully interwoven.

Her last album, the dark and immersive Blood Bitch, was constructed around themes of vampires, menstruation and capitalism. Not your standard pop fare, I think you’ll agree? Somehow Hval made it all work, once again creating a cohesive, challenging and emotionally rich album.

The Practice of Love finds Hval delving into themes of mortality, love and intimacy as well as exploring our relationship to the Earth and our surroundings. And while some of these themes are prevalent within pop music, it would be fair to say that no one approaches them quite like Jenny Hval. Endlessly inquisitive, Hval is prepared to go as far down the rabbit hole as she can get.

So what about the music? The compositions blend perfectly into Hval’s latest lyrical explorations. The results are noticeably gentler, softer around the edges. The darker aspects of Blood Bitch and Apocalypse, girl have subtly shifted into something lighter.

The electronic soundscapes and Nordic pop flourishes will be familiar to anyone that’s followed Hval yet there’s a shift in tone that makes The Practice of Love particularly blissful. Take the gorgeous, shuffling electronica of ‘High Alice’ as she repeatedly sings, “And I want something better/ we all want something better”.

“I kept coming back to trashy, mainstream trance music from the Nineties” Hval tells us through the albums press release “not trashy in a bad sense but a beautiful one”. The Practice of Love is about as far away from glow-sticks and Top of the Pops as you can get. There is, however, a residual influence lingering in the albums washed-out synths and euphoric moods.

There’s a clarity here that arguably makes The Practice of Love Hval’s most accessible work to date but don’t imagine for a second that this means it’s in any way compromised. Hval remains a pop artist (in perhaps the loosest sense) at the very forefront of her craft. Like all her music, the album remains a subtly subversive work.

Vivian Wang from Singapore-based psych band The Observatory takes the lead vocal on the opening track and whispered Pagan psalm, ‘Lions’. Over a jittery, minimal electronic bed Wang implores us to “study the ground/ the brown/ porous topsoil/ it’s softness” before asking “study this and ask yourself/ where is god?”

There’s no doubt that Hval’s artistic approach and aesthetic won’t appeal to everyone. Deeply philosophical and unashamedly literate lyrics intertwine with ambient passages and sections of spoken-word. The record comes with a Tarot card to go with each song. Hval’s work, even at its most accessible, was never going to fit into any ridged mainstream model.

The lyrics are unconventional yet unexpectedly direct. It really feels like Hval is trying to communicate with the listener, encouraging them to listen and ask questions. The difference between Hval and some of her contemporaries being that she doesn’t feel the need to water things down.

‘Ashes to Ashes’, rather than a Bowie cover, is perhaps the albums finest moment. Melancholic synths calmly wash over you as Hval explores some of her favourite themes; dreams, the subconscious, sex and death. The urge to make a connection with the Earth as she sings, “put two fingers in the earth/ into the honeypot”.

As deep, bold and unflinching as anything she’s produced; The Practice of Love stands as yet another undeniably inspired piece of work. Nature, sex, birth, love and death are explored alongside the very nature of art and expression. The fact that Hval fits all this into such a gentle, accessible and enjoyable record makes it all the more special.

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