Mixing together strangely twisted fairytales and sordid folk-tales gone awry with insatiable vampires, jet-lagged goths, and menstruation, Jenny Hval’s ‘Blood Bitch’ isn’t just a concept record; it’s a universe swirling with surreal ideas. From the heavy, uncomfortable gasps for oxygen that propel the virtually structureless ‘Into the Red’ to the menacingly calm reassurances of ‘Period Piece’ - “don’t be afraid it’s only blood” - Hval’s latest is a complex, disarming listen that delves into new, boundary-pushing territory with the enthusiasm of an overzealous Pokemon Go player exploring new corners of the neighbourhood.
Ever the experimenter, the Norwegian avant-garde enthusiast - as per - combines all manner of artistic influences for ‘Blood Bitch’. Sonically, Hval nods to her origins in Norway’s black metal scene, alongside brash, unwelcoming electronic sharp edges, and the collaged together chaos of no-wave and noise music. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Hval’s protagonist of choice (a touring musician and vampire called Orlando, naturally) is named after the author Virginia Woolf’s gender bending, notoriously tricksy novel of the same name, either, either.
Virginia Woolf’s dislike of orderly structure, and her infamous love of rambling, multi-claused sentences that go on for pages and pages subtly find a way into ‘Blood Bitch,’ shaping endless stream-of-consciousness sections. “I feel old in this hotel,” observes ‘Untamed Religion’ before swiftly moving onto menstrual blood on bedsheets, “like a dog, I’m making everything that belongs to no-one.” On mildly terrifying song ‘The Plague’ meanwhile, Hval’s bizarre, half-coherent thoughts are flung out like the inner pages of a private sketchbook fluttering out of a multi-storey high-rise. “That’s right, I took my birth control with rosé. When you were sleeping, I was dreaming that you were sleeping, you were living a life, and I was living as a… oh my god, shit. Thank god. Keep that birth under control,” mutters a disorientated Jenny Hval into an echoing dictaphone, before she’s eaten up by a glitching ether of radio-interference.
“Brilliantly, ‘Blood Bitch’ also has a sense of humour.”
Despite the spoken word, “abstract romanticism” and other such influences which permeate ‘Blood Bitch,’ this is by no means a lofty record. In fact, it might just be Jenny Hval’s most accessible work to date. Though many of her ideas make as little logical sense as trying to bulldoze a pier with a packet of Frazzles (on paper) the resulting record, ‘Blood Bitch’ paints the richest dreamscape going. The restless, pulsing opener ‘Restless Awakening,’ drifts almost undetected into the bewitching ‘Female Vampire’; the record as a whole pitching its haunting electronic centre somewhere between Fever Ray, and Grouper. It’s compelling stuff, this.
Brilliantly, ‘Blood Bitch’ also has a sense of humour. “What’s this album about, Jenny?” asks a friend on the loftily titled ‘The Great Undressing’.“That’s so basic,” she remarks later, apparently unimpressed. As much as ‘Blood Bitch’ might have a snappy tagline - a concept album about period - it explores far beyond bare bones concepts. The most uncomfortable elements of life, colliding to create frantic, disorganised, but completely coherent mess, this record isn’t basic. It’s anything but.