Six songs into Jenny Hval’s latest album, Blood Bitch, the Norwegian sound auteur is asked by a friend just what exactly the album is about. “It’s about vampires,” the artist explains on the meta intro to “The Great Undressing,” this answer being met with a bit of derisive laughter. After her friend calls the theme “basic,” Hval delivers a conciliatory, “Well, it’s about more than that.” As it stands, blood actually stains much of the collection, and one track in particular revolves around a blood-sucker hurtling themselves through time and space. That’s heady enough material as it is, but the rest of Hval’s complex and mesmerizing cycle also coagulates around explorations of identity and an ever-shifting blur of sonics.
There is a gothic allure to opening piece “Ritual Awakening,” with Hval at one point bringing attention to a coffin that contains a heart. The piece’s soft haze of synths and digital cracklings also scores a kind of technological confinement as she softly details the death grip she has on her phone.
“Female Vampire” is as melodic as it is tension filled, it being a story of a “transient, restless” vampire looking for their place in the world. This all happens above a percussive punch of drums and sax-like synthetic sounds. “In the Red” matches the frantic pace, carrying over a bit of its predecessor’s tune before fading into a series of high heart-rate breaths, the squeak of an opened door and the confession, “It hurts everywhere.”
A press release has Hval noting that the record is “an investigation of blood,” specifically “blood that is shed naturally.” As such, “Untamed Region” finds the artist detailing a dream about menstruation (“blood on the bed/didn’t know it was my time yet/or is it not mine?), while bouncing, new age dub-pop standout “Period Piece” describes how a routine gynecological exam can somehow turn into “accidental sci-fi.” She normalizes the situation, though, embracing the experience as she notes “some people find it painful, but all I feel is connected.”
Exploring ideas of identity and interconnectivity hit throughout Blood Bitch. Hval’s voice flutters hummingbird-like amongst a round of flutes on “Conceptual Romance,” a spiritual sermon that weighs in on heartbreak, sentimentality, “sexual holding patterns” and more. “What can I say, I don’t know who I am, but I’m working on it,” she admits on the track, which is followed up by a man’s spoken word section on “Untamed Region” about society constantly being in a state of confusion and uncertainty.
Blood Bitch is likewise amorphous with its sonic approach. The collection offers plenty of oddly oscillated keyboard tones and atmospheric drones; “Female Vampire” approaches elements of modern electronic pop; “Secret Touch” has a hint of New Jack drum machine work thrown into the mix. Most complex of all is the mind-smashing “The Plague,” which rolls out anything from a starry wipe of keyboards, to the musician’s intimate Dictaphone recollection of pairing birth control with Rosé, to monstrous grunts, to a wildly juxtaposed jumble of howls and giddy chiptune programming.
Blood Bitch is an ambitious and awesomely executed album from Hval, a landmark outing for the experimental artist. Borrowing a soul-baring line from closer “Lorna,” you’ve “never known pleasure like this.”
– review by Gregory Adams