I do write a lot about female artists but hardly ever use the word ‚feminist‘. Not because they aren’t but simply because there’s no overt agenda in their music (consider this a judgement-free comment). Jenny Hval, though, plays with ideas, slam poetic lyrics and a certain 80s bluntness in imagery that she (along with artists like Peaches, for example) can be considered a very feminist musician.
On first glance, this bluntness and the alienation she works through her music, was hard to swallow for me (feminist symbolism not intended). As some of her more „catchy“ songs and bits of songs reminded me of Susanne Sundfor who has – despite her experimental compositions – a very melodic pop-appeal, Hval was too fragmented for me, the full story of her songs on “Apocalypse, girl” never really unravelled. Instead, I had a patchwork of impressions, styles and vocal stunts in front of me that was annoying as soon as it got endearing and was overpowered by lyrics that were close to a parody.
But (oh, you had to expect the but) with the second and third listen, the underlying musical concept got more and more visible. Hval is being compared with artists like Björk or Kate Bush. But both Björk and Bush understand the amazing and magical mixture of beautiful pop melodies wrapped up in musical experimentalism. Hval does not go for the pop melodies to carry the art but instead uses the art to defragment the pop melodies. Does that make sense? Imagine a Daily Soap episode cut into pieces and rearranged into a different narrative, an off-putting story with hints of the normal and cheesy story-telling hidden deep within the new structure. With „Apocalypse, girl“, we do have a basic material that is obviously superior to a mundane daily soap. But it still is a nearly meta approach to art pop. Initially, I wanted to fight against that term in combination with Hval as much as possible. This is no pop, I thought, this is too shattered, too expressionist. But take a few steps back and you discover the soft shapes and warm melodies that make pop. They’re only rearranged to a point where – as soon as you get lost in a song – you’ll get hurled back outside to watch everything shift and change in front of you.
Let’s not put that much weight on those lyrics, those clits and shavings and bananas and ironic capitalist critics that cry for an aggressive collage by an 80s teenager with only one earring. Let’s focus on the insane fragility of beauty and unease that this album presents which is far more impressive as a statement of feminism nowadays than those lyrics.