Jenny Hval expresses a strong belief in the power of dreams. It’s the place a person no longer has control. It’s where our id and ego disappear, and we exist only in a symbolic state. She sings, “A dream is where we set ourselves aside / Dreaming is the plan without the plan” on the hopeful “The Revolution Will Not Be Owned”. Dreams are where we are free from restrictions and external control and celebrated as such.
The eight songs on the Norwegian musician’s latest album, Classic Objects, are purposely dreamlike. They are more atmospheric and rhythmic than narrative and follow tangents into unexplored places. As both narrator and protagonist, Hval starts in a waking state and then lets the songs float away into unknown territory. The results suggest our primal urges and our conscious thoughts are out of balance. “Life could be a dream”, as the Chords sang us so long ago on “Sh-boom”. But then it wouldn’t be real. Hval implies that we need to find a way to incorporate our dreams into our everyday life but to be wary.
Or, as Delmore Schwartz famously put it, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” They can lead us to places we might be better off ignoring. Hval has it both ways here. The Classic Objects she explores include a ruined statue of Jupiter to “birds in the distance, gum, gum, gum, cigarette butts”, from the experience of getting married to a man (“a deal with patriarchy”) to the clouds of ancient philosophy found in the bottom of her coffee cup. These elements may seem unrelated, but like the representations in a dream, the connections are on a deeper level. Eros and Thanatos are always lurking in the somnolence.
Hval’s ethereal voice suggests that her art serves a higher purpose. Her role is that of a doula to help the listeners release their inner selves. The specifics of her experience help ground us. The objects of which she sings are not only classic but common. Her worries about finding meaningful work, being in love and connecting with others, and discovering the reasons for existence and death, are eternal and universal. She directs us to chill and let our thoughts and desires emerge.
The music is also joyful. The persistent polyrhythms and decorative strings celebrate our existence. Just the fact that we are here is a good thing. There are echoes of bird songs and nature mixed with the actual sound of birds, rivers, and trees. The album becomes an immersive experience that requires one to pay attention on more than one level. It’s easy to get sonically lost, and that is the point. Hval wants us to experience a dreamlike state.
“Reality’s not a measuring cup / When I listen deep, I’m not my owner,” Hval proclaims on “Freedom”. The kind of liberty she refers to separates her from society as well as alienates her from herself. She finds her importance in terms of being part of something supernatural. It can be found in art, but as she notes, a song can be copyrighted, but a dream can’t. Her compositions are intended to inspire her audience’s reveries.