Jenny Hval - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Jenny Hval - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:

After supporting Michael Gira’s bludgeoning behemoths, Swans, and releasing the startling Apocalypse, girl earlier in the year, it seems that Norway’s Jenny Hval is on the rise. Her music shifts between spoken-word confessionals, drone-based soundscapes and that most taboo genre of all, pop.

Hval’s chameleon-like tendencies become even more apparent in the live environment and tonight’s performance is exactly that, a performance. Hval is putting the art back into pop and it’s a thrilling, entertaining and engaging spectacle.

Before Hval takes to the stage we get a set from experimental, drone duo The Sly and Unseen. Utilising a Shruti Box (at least I think that’s what it’s called), a glockenspiel, acoustic guitar, melodica and a toy, wind-up birdcage Katie English and Jonathan Lees create warm, gentle drones that fill the room with a slowly unfurling, graceful magic. There’s a natural, pastoral feel to the drones; this is avant-garde experimentalism filtered through the autumnal gaze of folk. It’s a calming and effortlessly delivered set and the duo, quite rightly, receive an extended round of applause from the assembled crowd.

Throughout Jenny Hval’s captivating performance, we see her transform. Starting the set in a grey tracksuit and modelling a long, black and quite convincing wig, Hval play’s with our perceptions and expectations of what a live performance can be.  Hval’s commanding vocal presence is complemented by an electronic backdrop of drones, organ sounds and loops; a table of wires and boxes controlled by Hval’s current collaborator. There’s not a guitar in sight, with Hval even using her iphone at one point.

At times Hval steps away from the microphone, her sampled voice still reverberating around the room as she sits on her yoga ball or on the floor of the stage. As the set goes on, Hval removes sections of her outfit; eventually laying the clothes and wig out on the floor and curling up alongside. This works particularly well in the intimate setting of the Brudenell’s pool room and at times feels more like we’re watching some kind of live, art installation.

All this is very good but what about the songs I hear you say? Songs from Hval’s latest album explore femininity, sex and sexuality in a playful and uninhibited fashion, a collection of strange, yet accessible ‘soft dick rock’ songs that give tonight’s performce a distinctly sexual narrative. ‘Kingsize’ uses bananas, innuendo and a knowing wink to deliver a strange, spoken-word introduction to tonight’s show. Indeed, these are some of the most unique and powerful songs I’ve heard all year.

Single, and quite possibly my favourite song of the year, ‘That Battle is Over’ tackles the loss of feminism and socialism through one of Hval’s most beautiful melodies. It’s delivered with such passion tonight that the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s absolutely thrilling to watch a performer so utterly in her element, so in control of everything that happens on stage.

At the centre of all the experimentalism however lies Hval’s greatest asset, her voice. Soaring aptly and angelically through a hypnotic rendition of ‘Heaven’ while also managing to calmly guide us through the slightly menacing magic of ‘Sabbath’. Hval asks for the reverb to be taken off her vocals at one point as this is something “real”, an organic and passionate voice at the centre of a technological storm. While all of this sounds quite ‘challenging’ it’s hard to express just how involving, assessable and downright beautiful tonight’s performance feels.

Comments (1)

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sounds brilliant. I'm with you all the way there Andy. Might be my album of the year.

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