On her new LP, The Practice of Love, Norwegian avant-pop genius Jenny Hval explores a variety of intricate, intensely personal topics against an array of kaleidoscopic soundscapes.
She has always seemed to have an endless well of ideas to draw from, especially of late: her last release, The Long Sleep, was a rumination on death and its consequences, while her previous LP, the avant-garde masterpiece Blood Bitch, was a raw, vivid dissection of the confluence of thematic similarities between vampirism and menstruation. That album, more than any of her others (even the rather hilarious, Björk-flavoured Apocalypse, Girl) cut deep, and left the listener bleeding. It’s shocking, brutal, honest and undoubtedly one of the finest high-brow records released in recent memory, specifically due to its unflinching take on the concept.
The Practice of Love is, first and foremost, a stellar electro-pop album. It is gentler, kinder, more accessible and more playful than any of her previous releases. It is more generous with her art than her novella, and certainly not as frank with its use of adjectives.
The album is largely influenced by the lucid, sticky grooves of trance, and features the best song she’s ever written, the hazy, trippy “Ashes to Ashes”, where she softly intones a lullaby, a hymn in sepia. Its soggy, dense haze is punctured only by Hval’s quavering vocals, evoking both the deep romanticism of Julee Cruise and the featherweight tenderness of mid-2000s radio pop.
The album features many collaborations with Vivian Wang, Laura Jean Englert and Félicia Atkinson, and multiple uses of synthesized saxophone sounds. The sax noises on “Thumbsucker” and “Accident” are simultaneously tasteful and absurd – a pointed reminder of Hval’s experimentalism, and a reminder of her penchant for the ridiculous. “Accident” is a particularly dazzling piece. The hyper-active, sensual “High Alice”, with its insistent, endless beat, is a highlight. “Six Red Cannas” leans more heavily into a chilly techno sound, producing a narcotic, dense haze – like a nightdrive to a frozen fjord.
The eight tracks here amount to a brief, concise, succinct album that serves as an exquisite counterpoint to the vivid horror of Blood Bitch. While the two records share an airy, ethereal DNA, The Practice of Love is a far more palatable, more replayable affair – it just doesn’t seem to hit as hard as its sister, but very few albums do.