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Jenny Hval

Innocence is Kinky

(Rune Grammofon; US: 14 May 2013; UK: 22 Apr 2013)

Jenny Hval’s performances begin with abbreviations. On Viscera, her debut solo album of light-obscured folk songs, she began with an abstraction of sound, and then a clear thought that captured an album in its arms: “I arrived in town,” she snarled, slithering around the words’ narrative setting, “with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” It took her over a minute to extract that first line, but if it slipped out like a confession, it doubled as a confrontation, a phrase that intoned a provocative discourse on gender and the body, but first had to see who could make it there. For those of us hearing her music for the first time, it acted like an experimental litmus test, the first line of a story that sought to be inviting to those who answered its questions, and refusing to those who didn’t. Innocence is Kinky begins with Hval winking at herself in the mirror, its first song a nod to “Engines in the City”, but also an excavation to the centre of its belief: “That night,” she begins, her setting now immediate, before the song’s callous, thudding beat is prompted, “I watched people fucking on my computer.” Innocence is Kinky might be a more clear distillation of Hval’s vision, but that’s only because the gaze is fixed so intently from performer to perpetrator. 


Innocence is Kinky originated as a sound and light instillation (Hval’s music accompanying silent movie La passion de Jeanne d’Arc), but fleshed out, it becomes a soliloquy, considered a performance piece because of its spoken conversations and damagingly rhetorical questions. For an album that feels created on an empty plane, Hval still has antagonists and she is still asking questions of gender politics and a violent obsession with youth, as if these questions would exist if she were the last person alive. “Death of an Author” begins with a desolate guitar riff that recurs around her questions: “Me by your eye? / Me by your hand? / Me by the manosphere?” she asks, reading a perception of her physicality by context of another’s as a tiring inevitability. But listen to any Hval song long enough and its ruminative, weary side buckles, her language stretching in shape and spirit as if she’s rewritten its definition. On “The Seer”, she projects slowly changing synth chords that map a lifelessness for her questions, but it’s in her pronunciation, her way of speaking, that the body gets built. “Where do I end?” she asks, and then again: “Where do I end”, the question mark falling off as if another being has been revealed in the wake of this one. “My body is the end,” she answers, crumpling together the two visions of sound Innocence is Kinky wants: the dissonant, interrogating white noise Hval holds up in and the devastating words she conquers by recreating.

Rating:

Robin Smith can be contacted by email.


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