By MATT CARTER // Female Nordic Art-Pop musician and activist to play Holocene Monday Nov. 14th
The new album Blood Bitch by Norwegian songwriter Jenny Hval isn’t her first to receive critical acclaim. The album preceding it was just as touted, even with jocular subject matter such as, “what is soft dick rock?” That album, Apocalypse Girl, not only earned Hval a Nordic Prize nomination, but allowed her to extensively tour the U.S., which included a stop at Portland’s Mississippi Studios in August 2015.
In the month prior, the venue played host to San Francisco-based electronic composer Holly Herndon, making Mississippi Studios a hotbed for radical female solo electronic projects that summer. While the two producers garnered international attention in 2015, it was Hval’s performance art that lived up to the rumored hype of colored wigs and yoga balls.
Hval’s vocal range that night took on every shape from heavy loops of reverbed whispers to boisterous screams at the hushed crowd, often striking without warning. Somewhere at the intersection of avant-garde and political statement, you will find a performance of Jenny Hval. Her lyrics question gender conformity and her stage presence is uniquely pathos driven.
On Blood Bitch, the themes are expressly stated, but the overall effect of Hval’s politic and sound design is more complex than can be explained by words like “vampires” or “menstrual blood.” But albums that have received “Best New Music” on Pitchfork have been described in even more provocative yet vague terms. So the ubiquity of one word descriptors is kind of a blessing when you discover the indescribable deepness of thought put into Hval’s sixth and most focused album.
The third of her influences on Blood Bitch? “Characters and images from horror and exploitation films of the '70s,” states Hval about the album. Making a guess at what films she was influenced by, we see a cross section of social issues and cultural shortcomings still present in society. Take for instance the British “Hammer” film The Vampire Lovers, which portrays a female vampire’s duality with mortals, as her lesbian sexuality – nor her vampirism – is accepted by society. Or 1978’s Let Me Die a Woman, which details the lives of transgendered people and those living with gender dysphoria in a much less accepting time period.
The symbolism may be timeless, but the forward thinking perspective on Blood Bitch is still uniquely 2016. To get noticed on a global level nowadays, you can’t be conventional. That’s why Hval’s approach has always ruminated on atypical sexuality, emphasized by the title of her album, Innocence is Kinky. Before coming to the show, listen to the track “In the Red” on Blood Bitch and you may ask yourself, is it interpretive noise? Is it an orgasm? Wrong, the answer is its radical feminism made sonic, and hopefully you are its newest convert.
Also on the bill is Mattress, Portland’s own local answer to Suicide-meets-Depeche Mode. With all the pageantry of Elvis’ gold lamé and an expert knowledge of audio production consoles, Mattress is sure to prime for Hval’s thrilling improvisations.