PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Jenny Hval: Apocalypse, Girl

Jenny Hval’s latest embraces aspects of popular music while also disregarding the limiting expectations that come tied to such forms.

Jenny Hval

Apocalypse, Girl

Label: Sacred Bones
US Release Date: 2015-06-09
UK Release Date: 2015-06-08
Label Website
Artist Website

Now with three albums released under her own name (not including her previous two as Rockettothesky), Norwegian singer-songwriter-author-academic Jenny Hval continues to make the human body and human sexuality central to her work, but on her latest, Apocalypse, Girl, she also takes on a litany of anxieties and concerns both individual and societal. As on her previous two albums, Viscera (2011) and Innocence Is Kinky (2013), Hval embraces aspects of popular music while also disregarding the limiting expectations that come tied to such forms. Still, Apocalypse, Girl might be, musically speaking, her most concise collection of songs yet, if also the most thematically loose and diverse.

The album begins with Hval reciting a passage from Danish poet Mette Moestrup’s award-winning collection KINGSIZE. Their work shares at least a few qualities, and the words Hval reads in a voice that lands somewhere between a whisper and a come-hither feel as if they could have easily come from Hval herself:

“Think big, girl, like a king. Think kingsize. Did you learn nothing in America? I’ve placed four big bananas in my lap. In New York, I don’t dream. I always wanted to be less sub-culturally lonely, but here I see no sub-culture, no future, no big science, no big bananas, but I found no, no future. I rock the bananas gently, move back and forth. Don’t wake them. What is soft dick rock?”

Good question. Indeed, Hval has even been selling “Soft Dick Rock” shirts on her recent tour, whatever “soft dick rock” actually is.

Apocalypse, Girl returns to impressions of a visit to America (presumably Hval’s own) on the final song, “Holy Land”, a creaking, moaning, feverish trance that elapses over ten minutes, the only song on the record to exceed traditional standards of length for commercial music. “When I went to America / I could not align with the landscape / I understand why people want to be reborn / I understand why people speak in tongues… I understand it in America," Hval chant-sings, uncharacteristically serene (before her short, shivering breaths bring a sense of unease back to the song as it fades out), her voice ascending slightly word-by-word repeatedly over each line. The bookending would seem to suggest that America, at least as a broad intellectual concept if not a physical place full of diverse locations and millions upon millions of people, plays a significant role in the album, but it’s not so easy to fit such an implied framework around the abstract form of the album.

Apocalypse, Girl was produced by the lauded Norwegian musician Lasse Marhaug, whose work crosses into the realms of noise, jazz, metal, and other genres, and features Thor Harris of Swans, Øystein Moen of Jaga Jazzist, and other established improv performers along with her regular band members Håvard Volden and Kyrre Laastad. With a roster like that on paper, it would be fair to expect the album to be aggressively challenging, if not inscrutable. Though never verse-chorus-verse, these songs, their anti-structures and capricious melodies, prove accessible on their own terms. There’s nothing here as plainly gorgeous as “Golden Locks” or “Milk of Marrow” from Viscera, and altogether the artistic subversion might be more overt, but Hval’s evolution hasn’t come at the sacrifice of beauty.

Images and concepts carry over from one song to the next. “Kingsize” bleeds into “Take Care of Yourself”, which opens with Hval theatrically delivering the premise with the question “what is it to take care of yourself?” Against a backdrop of distant siren drones and cold synth lines, the “Fitter Happier” list that follows starts with the basics, “getting paid, getting laid, getting married, getting pregnant, fighting for visibility in your market…”, and gets more detailed and obscure from there. She then returns to soft dicks, seeking vulnerable intimacy with the ‘you’ of the song while still managing to make “your soft dick” sound almost accusatory.

“The Battle Is Over” then poses the exact same opening question in a whisper cushioned by a candle-lit organ and a slowly shuffling drumbeat. Musically, “The Battle Is Over” is practically ‘normal’ in its instrumentation and arrangement, something of an obvious choice for lead single amidst a collection which otherwise lives up to the expectation to jostle and frisk expectations. The subject matter can feel a little familiar at times -- “Statistics and newspapers tell me that I am unhappy and dying”, perceived societal expectations and the like – but the inspired swings and pole-vaults of Hval’s voice give it effervescent life.

Even more than the unsettlingly vivid images and intellectual confrontation proffered by her words, it is those wild shifts and dramatic declamations, the risks that Hval is willing to take with her vocal delivery, that make Apocalypse, Girl so singular. You may squirm at times, but it is almost impossible to look away.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.