September 14, 2019

Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love Review

Jenny Hval - The Practice Of Love Review

Jenny Hval - The Practice of Love Review

Ever since Jenny Hval's critical and commercial breakthrough, Apocalypse, Girl in 2015, I was hooked to her music. Through the years I had grown to love the style of music from European countries such as Iceland's post-rock band Sigur Rós or Sweden's electronic duo, The Knife and later Fever Ray, but when I found Jenny Hval's music, I felt like I had found my favorite version of this kind of European singer-songwriter, since she contains the fabulous avant-garde sensibilities of Icelandic artist  Björk (who I was never much a fan of), while maintaining the elegant synth-pop style of an artist such as Fever Ray. As she blended the two seamlessly, she grew into her own, and I was already late to the party as Apocalypse, Girl was already her 4th album as Jenny and 6th overall! She continued in 2016 with her atmospheric, concept album, Blood Bitch (a masterwork in my opinion which will be covered in my Masterpiece series at a later date), a meditative EP in 2018 called The Long Sleep, and now her latest album in 2019, The Practice of Love.

The Practice of Love doesn't hold back any of Jenny's deepest thoughts either, as any fan would know her work to contain highly vulnerable and artistic expressions of her thoughts on aging, romance, religion, mortality, and vampires (the focal point of Blood Bitch) among other things. One of the noticeable things about this latest release, when put up against her past couple of albums though, is the number of featured guests who take stabs at her synthesized syncopated songs. I can't help but think and ponder about the evolution of her sound, and how The Practice of Love has become one of her most accessible releases yet, as its synth-work verges on the border of disco and danceable beats that delight the senses. Her opening track, Lions, picks up as Jenny's guided meditation-like voice calls the listener to "look at these trees, look at this grass" and then asks to "take a closer look, study the raindrops on the leaves" before she finally asks "study this and ask yourself, where is God?" Her gospel-like vocals fly over with a fast and catchy reverberating drumbeat. This opener is punctuated by a paganistic and ritualistic meditation on existence and much like the rest of the album, it is worthy of multiple listens as its sound washes over and forces the occasional head bob.

High Alice is the first single of the album, and is a classic Alice in Wonderland setup as she asks "Alice, lost, she took a long rest, in an unknown place. She thought, where did all these creatures come from, and why are they here?" It drives up the electronic drumbeat and it pulls listeners further into Jenny's world. Accident, an existential quandary about Jenny's birth being an accident, cuts to the emotional core, since I feel like it is the universal workings of chance that bring us into this world. As her chorus repeats, "I was just an accident", and later "she was just an accident", it is chilling and a meditation of whether the practice of love is responsible for her existence, as a saxophone echoes through the cosmos of her composition. The title track of the album could hardly be called a song, as Jenny, spoken word and interview-style, discusses her thoughts about the idea of love, and how it is used by people, and also how she feels as a 39-year-old woman who hasn't produced any children to keep the species (or virus, in her words) going.

As her title track comes to a close, it is surprising to note that her album is already over halfway through, because The Practice of Love is only 34 minutes long. Ashes to Ashes is another highly accessible and danceable tune, which puts a poignant image to mind, as she describes burying a loved one's ashes, and then lighting up a cigarette. Her chorus is the well-known, repeated mantra, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Thumbsucker takes a different turn than the rest of the album as it settles into a saxophone melody as it dusts its woodwind flavor over the silence in a repeated pattern. Before long, Jenny takes over with her angelic falsetto while the percussion carefully treads low in the mix. This is probably the most experimental and adventurous track of the album, as Thumbsucker contains an avant-garde, free-jazz flow, as the instruments follow her lead wherever her voice takes her. Six Red Cannas is another disco-flavored number and contains the most EDM vibes of any other song, feeling the most energized and alive of the bunch of electronic, synthesized pop songs, while Ordinary subdues the energy into a strange, yet familiar ending, as Jenny Hval is known to insert her signature avant-garde style into her music. While her danceable change-up in her new album is a welcome surprise, her traditional singer-songwriter flair is what made her stand out in the first place. She sings in the chorus, "to be ordinary" as she studies the idea and the meaning of living an "ordinary" life.

The Practice of Love is a short, but sweet album by Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval. Its tight composure invites multiple playthroughs and its themes and emotions have the ability to cut deep. The Practice of Love might be her most accessible album yet, as her several singles have proven to be an evolution in her sound, all while still maintaining the core of her personality. For anyone who enjoys a different kind of journey through the world of music, Jenny Hval has consistently delivered from her multiple past albums, which always create a unique, heady, and sometimes eerie, atmosphere of sound.

The Practice of Love - 8.75/10

Recommended Tracks: Lions, Accident, Thumbsucker