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Bloody hell: Jenny Hval live in London

28 October 2016, 09:00 | Written by Amelia Maher

Jenny Hval has always been an intriguing character, creating music that constantly surprises with its off-kilter take on pop that frequently challenges as well as amuses.

As something of a critics’ darling after the release of Apocalypse, Girl and this year's Blood Bitch, Hval has garnered a reputation for being intricately fascinating, pushing both perceptions of what female singers should sing about as well what a live performance should involve.

For tonight’s packed-out performance at London's Oslo (19 October), as a child’s paddling pool appears on the stage, there's already absolutely no doubt proceedings will live up to expectations. It’s a night that will intrigue, baffle and then finally enrapture, whether the crowd initially understands Hval's message or not.

Hval’s vocals are as clear as crystal and as soft as velvet as they flutter around and work their magic. On opener "Lorna", the intricate electronic patterns and her softly spoken words hang eerily in the air as she whispers about the desire to bite and tear into skin - the theme of vampires and blood being heavily present in much of latest album Blood Bitch.

It’s unnerving how Hval can be so delicate on the surface and yet have so much lurking underneath. As the set develops, there are so many things to be uncertain about that you never quite get the chance to relax. She wants you to be a part of her performance, but on her terms.

Hval's real strength is in the control she displays on stage as a performer – there is not one detail that hasn’t been very carefully considered. For "Conceptual Romance", Hval serenades the crowd with a deceptive pop song that has lyrics that delve far deeper than the flowery melodies let on. At the same time, she spends the entirety of the song throwing rose petals over herself. It’s hard to know what's happening exactly, but this is only an introduction to the performance art that Hval is so well known for. Nothing is off-limits tonight.

The gig also features a section dedicated to drawing, where her bandmate scribbles relentlessly over a pad of A3 paper before Hval grabs the pen herself, relentlessly making marks against a rising, noisy crescendo. Then there’s the re-emergence of the paddling pool, which Hval turns up on its side and then enters. It’s strange, even ridiculous, but certainly a novel and effective technique for delivering serious messages in a curious manner.

For all we enjoy the flamboyance and baffling stunts, Hval is worth more than the gimmicks she performs on stage, and there are times when you wish she would let the music do the talking. The extra layers of performance art can divert from the message, but perhaps this was part of her plan all along. As she finishes on the unnervingly brilliant "Female Vampire", she pulls the parts together in what is a peculiar, unique and, in places, very challenging show. Even if it’s not always clear what she is trying to present, you could never call it boring.

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