The Long Sleep
[Sacred Bones; 2018]
There’s something strikingly pensive about the infinity-interrogating spirit shown on both The Long Sleep and Jenny Hval’s preceding release (as Lost Girls with Håvard Volden), Feeling. Her meditations are not precious (nor above preciousness) and frequently bemused about embarrassing, natural garden-variety human mess. Even at her most resplendently soaring-searching, the artist clings to sweaty oblong mantras that flirt with a purgative abject disgrace. She may sometimes passingly resemble a psychotropically compromised self-help guru, but Hval is always in there somewhere laughing with you by sharp little degrees you didn’t know (or had forgotten) were at your disposal.
While listening to these two releases (and to some extent, with the wisty mist turned down, 2016’s Blood Bitch), one can almost picture Hval, for all her disassociative flair, doing stock, montagey normal things like carefully assessing kindergarten drawings, gliding around the circle of kids, irradiated in shivering warmth. In other words, there is occasionally something mildly mundane and domestic about her strangeness, harrowing as it can be. It’s a curious wrinkle, but the artist’s dominating humor is actually more often intrepid or exultant. The whooping at the six-minute mark of Feeling’s “Accept” is close to epitomizing what it feels like when Hval’s music properly sends you. There is an arresting sensation of vast release and midnight blooms. Of untold resilience. You feel it, and you wanna yawp (like Ethan Hawpe).
From riveted at the poetry reading to discombobulated “Celtic Swing” contentment, these small packages manage to weave you into their fabric just as well as Hval’s longer albums. She continues to wield a mighty voice, a mousy voice, a mincing voice. A voice that bracingly bends into an object instrument, heroically rejecting language and the regimented reigning in of one’s primal vitality as a whole. She sounds at home wherever she wanders, and with The Long Sleep’s tell-me-you-aren’t-loving-this infectious centerpiece (“Spells”), this territory now includes a balmy saunter through Mclachland (“Conceptual Romance” came close, but this is closer). Not only is this song a barely-noticeable six minutes long, but it also sophisticatedly brow-furrows Hval’s signature unsettledness into its breezy bounce. “We will not be awake for long” is repeated in bubblegum gospel (pleading vamps included) fashion, but the singer’s conviction (and pristine pitch) is unmistakable and palpably stirring throughout.
In Hval and Volden’s discussion of their musical curation for each other’s funerals, one can get a glimpse of where “Spells” is coming from. It’s that exhilarated reflexive whisper (in-casket acoustics), while you ease your flushed cheek with a cool, steely eye on the finish line. It’s a tender, personal, broken-in sort of death chant. Yet, if there could ever be a resolved way to look at mass human exodus (a notion that renders the very practice of “looking” and “listening” hilariously meager), this song seems to keen for purchase on that impossibly tumultuous mental current. It boasts the ethereal charm of a supermarket siren song, but it’s ultimately closer to the high-walled mercy of fate, besting better angels since nature was nature. Tailing this keening on opposite ends is the “lost” notion of “exercising everything by tapping into nothing.” Interestingly, this line plays interchangeably to solitude, co-dependency and the tentative-to-total regard aimed at the slivery reaches of blinking hallway window lights (audience). Even the mulching drone that takes up much of the second half is flexing this tactile, jawset humming, faraway-fever intimacy. The lyrical self-admonishing solipsism then resembling attentive laments, then rote dispatches, then lines in the sand that you retrace again and again with mindless determination.
Hval parts with a postscript that directly questions, muses, asserts, and finally kisses you on your silly head (“Thank you/ I love you”). It’s a funny feeling to wind up with, (and slightly reminiscent of the ending of this sad old story), but its formality manages to take a dismayingly fleeting listen make it feel momentous. In addition to being another altogether strong effort from the artist, this is both a subtle expanding on and exciting departure from the gorgeous drift of the Lost Girls project. Exciting new terrain aside, there’ll hopefully be more Jenny Hval music to come soon. These 23 minutes do indeed leave one wanting more (not unlike the latest Grouper and Elysia Crampton releases). But even if The Long Sleep is (deep down or hiding in plain sight) a resigned, muted, end-of-the-line Kool-Aid party, the bug juice is delectable enough to call one back from the great unknown for seconds and so on.