Jenny Hval Takes a Rockettothesky
Even just by reading her own personal thoughts on the art of music alone, one can easily gather that Jenny Hval is one of those literary types. By this, I refer to individuals who seem to have a personal connection with works of literature, interpreting them as if it is their own life and experiences being foretold in the process. Sure, many of these types can be pretentious, but others can be uniquely invigorating in a way that causes the people they interact with to look deeper into the thematic meanings of literature and art in general. Hval is more applicable of the latter description, fusing her love of music and literature together for the “one-woman band” of Rockettothesky. It would make sense too, as the young songwriter from Norway also happens to be an aspiring writer who has had her works published in a handful of anthologies; she describes herself as constantly being busy with “pieces of fiction, articles, essays, [and] spoken word pieces” in addition to her music. That being said, she certainly seems like a fascinating person to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. The aspect that drew me to Hval’s music, though, was not the way she looked upon the art of writing and music. Instead, I became enthralled by the way she was able to fuse the two together in producing a sound and style that is truly and distinctively her own.
In accordance to her literary ideology, I suppose that it should not be all that startling that Hval began writing songs for Rockettothesky as a “secret project” of sorts consisting of impulsive monologues for her deceased dog, Inka. In fact, in her own words, the project is “an invocation of the voices of the dead”, prompting the improvisational tendencies of Hval to be both thematically appropriate and strangely resounding. You see what I mean about how it would be interesting to sit down and have a conversation with Hval? For those somewhat intimidated by her eccentric nature though, her music proves that she is not by any means utilizing these unconventional methods for the sake of recognition or artistic desperation. In touch with her individualistic self throughout the entire duration, the ten recordings on her second album, Medea, portray a woman who is clearly in touch with the style she intends to produce. Alternating between styles such as folk, electronica, and pop, her richly extravagant vocals haunt the realms of her stylistically multifarious ability in a comparable form to Björk, a prevalent influence. A plea to the dead is a somewhat bizarre way to describe her style, but as Hval shifts from highly melodic vocal lines on sweeping orchestrals like “Grizzly Man” to percussively aided electro-pop gems like “The Dead, Dead Water Lily Thin”, one begins to get the sense that her highly ambitious style of play may be impossible to describe any better than as tribal chants directed toward the dead.
While chants and odes to the deceased may sound like a grim topic, Hval’s music actually turns out to be more enlightening than it does somber or melancholically reflective. “Grizzly Man” sounds more spiritually uplifting if anything, looking upon such aforementioned aspects of death in a manner that appears optimistic and progressively gratifying. Some tracks may be foreign to me and most listeners, but the mixture of twinkling bells and beautiful finger-picked acoustical guitar progressions in “Grizzly Man” creates a serene atmosphere that is supplemented marvelously by Hval’s extraordinary vocals. Her range defies even her melodic diversity, a spectacle in itself considering the unpredictable nature of her song’s structures and the melodic instrumentation that drives them. This astute level of instrumental diversity and consequentially experimental production is found all throughout the duration of Medea, whether it be the heavily reverbed echoes of a trickling guitar and sporadic bass in “Song in Blood” or the use of wind chimes and subtle hint of strings in the opening “Song of Pearl”. Some tracks even border a cappella form. “Chorus”, specifically, is only backed by a brooding synth pad as a variety of vocal layers overlap to give a choir-like effect that simply adds to a central message of everlasting love.
Despite being considerably more ambitious than anything you are ever likely to find on mainstream radio, “14, 15, 13, 14” serves as one of the most accessible tracks on Medea. The track is directed by a key-led beat that is very reminiscent of Middle-Eastern folk music, a very fascinating development that reveals itself as Hval transitions between melodically appeasing harmonies and spoken-word movements over a bustling trickle of backing synths. It is also one of her most straightforward tracks in terms of style and substance, especially when compared to near-ambient spectacles like “Mothering Silence” and “Chorus”. The only other track that takes a somewhat similar approach is “The Dead, Dead Water Lily Thin”. Initiated by the deep resounding pounding of percussion and a nasally synth line, Sweden’s The Knife certainly comes to mind due to the track’s ability to remain in the realm of electronic pop while maintaining the utmost sense of ambitiousness and atmospheric maneuverability. It also helps considerably that Hval encompasses vocals that fit whichever style she chooses to a startlingly effective extent, whether it be a cappella choral music, meditative orchestral arrangements, or subtly infectious electronic pop. On Medea, there is something for anyone who appreciates succeeding in a nearly inimitable format.