“What’s this album about, Jenny?”
“It’s about vampires”.
The bloodlust on Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch is not necessarily literal. The world of bloodsuckers does not necessarily end with the last vampire. We are all bloodsuckers in a sense, attacking one’s subjectivity and giving it the name of “failure”, a word that circulates through this records veins. Hval does not try to remedy past mistakes by simply creating a new avant-pop piece that follows the strange, much like her previous effort Apocalypse, girl. Instead, she bathes in electronic melodies that bring solace to her loneliness.
A key issue with Apocalypse, Girl was its inability to have any form of stability. While there is a disjunctive nature to the avant-garde, the amount of disjointed cuts on the album left a bitter taste. It was not so much Hval challenging her listeners as it was her accidentally getting on their nerves. What Blood Bitch does to improve in this area is find a beauty within the simple. Much like 2011’s Viscera, the record seldom has any bells and whistles, yet what brings the album to life is how well it reflects Hval as a lone entity, walking through desert sands finding an answer to a mystery she does not recall. She skirts along this desolate place while the soundscape fluctuates into colorful refractions.
Hval’s simplicity is one of mood, not of words. The artist still props her verses with meters not dared traveled in the mainstream. What she does so well is bring about a mutual hypnosis; we feel sucked into her words when she does. Conceptually, she becomes the vampire that sucks us in, not to do her bidding, but to experience her world. “Untamed Region” does this best, with Hval either in a trance or in a candid therapy session. The atmosphere is that of a serious but slow moment in a Nicolas Roeg film. Her words are strung along without falter.
Though Hval is in a space of loneliness throughout Blood Bitch, her words desire for human contact. “Someone’s holding my hand / Probably someone dead”, she sings on “Secret Touch”, trapped within a world where she cares equally for the living and the dead. These ideas are reflected again in “The Great Undressing”. Here, her love becomes a form of capitalism, a wealth that she mainly wants to attain. In swirls of calm electronics, the world slows down and we are in constant hypnosis. Yet, she is never desperate to reach out for someone; she wants but will not bleed out for desires.
The concept of vampirism is taken advantage of by the singer so well that she might not even realize its effects. When Hval speaks of the anxiety of picking up a phone call (“Ritual Awakening”), ominous electronic waves set off the signal that whomever is on the other line has their own fangs around her neck. Elsewhere, “Female Vampire” becomes a restless and fast-forwarded night of lights and sounds when it pursues its constant mechanical beat. Though the digital sounds of a horn caresses its same note, we feel driven through different parts of a city, with Hval’s high voice acting as a guide. We become controlled by this conceptual vampire, not realizing time or space.
Both “Conceptual Romance” and “The Plague” are where Hval shines most as an avant-pop artist. The former allows her to follow mainstream passages of electronics while pursuing a meter of her own. She doesn’t need to rhyme to create memorable moments that were hardly found on her previous works. “I’m working on it,” she sings, trying to escape from failures while still being too caught up with her own trance. She becomes like Björk in Dancer in the Dark: too sucked into her fantasy to see the real world outside.
The latter song is more like Hval is within a TV set, cycling through shows and finding herself lost, not in fantasy, but in physical realms that show odd parts of her. The motions on the track are akin to what one might find on the weird part of YouTube. One moment, she talks, as if intoxicated, to the skies. The next, screams from a hellish place annihilate any sense of peace. While Blood Bitch keeps steady, it is this look into Hval’s deep mind that unravels something troubling in the beauty. It is this trouble that supports the entirety of the piece. The eerie realization converges on “Lorna”, with a melody fitting of a modern vampire film like Let the Right One In and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Blood Bitch is a record that doesn’t try to be anything. Whereas Apocalypse, Girl was contrived and Viscera was uneventful, this record is dreamy and memorable, both through its illusion of simplicity and its gentle invitation to listeners. This invitation is the conceptual bite on the neck that we learn to enjoy. She siphons nothing from us, instead telling how the world has siphoned her.