Each December, in an effort to celebrate outstanding achievements and commemorate The Year That Was, the pop culture media industrial complex foists lots of lists upon the world. We here at Stereogum are party to that deluge; we shared our collective conclusions about 2018’s best albums a week ago and have been More »
Every year, the parameters for this list get a little more specious. With the rise of streaming services and the decline of physical media, the distinctions between a 7″ and a 12″ have largely faded away. Today, everything is a “project” or a “collection” or (groan) a “playlist.” Artists are still releasing EPs in name, … More »
Jenny Hval is releasing her very good new The Long Sleep EP today. We’ve only heard one song from it, “Spells,” in advance, though we did name it one of the best songs of the week back when it came out. Today, to ring in the full EP’s release, Hval is sharing a … More »
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.
Gah…sorry, y’all; I must have…dozed off there…
But, turns out, she’s already announcing the May 25 release of a conceptually-minded (and positively dreeeamy, I’m sure) new EP on Sacred Bones called The Long Sleep??? Holy shit; I’ve got to get my act together. Pass the coffee pot and that press release, will ya?
Okay let’s seee-ee-eeee here: the new EP was recorded “with longtime collaborator Håvard Volden and producer Lasse Marhaug,” alongside a supporting cast of the region’s most somnambulant jazz cats — Kyrre Laastad on percussion, Anja Lauvdal on piano, Espen Reinertsen on saxophone, and Eivind Lønning on trumpet. It also finds Hval “embracing an instinctive, even subconscious, approach to creating meaning” and foregrounding “the act of composition itself, letting the melodies and structures reveal the other elements of the songs.” Here’s a statement from Hval:
What am I doing here? Am I communicating? Am I promoting?
I just want to tell you something.
There should be something I could tell you, there should be something I could do to reach you directly, but there is nothing useful in the way we define “you”, or “me”. There should be something I could tell you, there should be something I could say directly without lyrics and melody.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying here. Something else than lyrics or melody. It’s not the words. It’s not in the rhythm. It’s not in the streaming. It’s not in the “message”. It’s not in the product. It’s not in the algorithms. It’s not something you decided. It’s not something they decided for you.
I want to tell you something. I just want to say: Thank you. I love you.
Whoa. Well THAT sure woke me up! Okay — I’m in. Where do I pre-order this thing? (Oh okay; right over here). And where do I listen to the first single, “Spells?” Oh okay; right down here:
The Long Sleep’s short tracklist:
02. The Dreamer Is Everyone In Her Dream
03. The Long Sleep
04. I Want To Tell You Something
Norwegian experimental artist Jenny Hval has a pretty good track record. Her 2015 album Apocalypse, girl explored bodies and human sexuality and gender dynamics, and we named it one of the best albums of 2015. Her 2016 album Blood Bitch explored the intersection of menstruation, vampire lore, and ’70s exploitation films, and we … More »
Today’s fun fact: people still read books in Norway! Do you know how I know this? Because lifelong Norwegian (and globally-acclaimed singer-songwriter) Jenny Hval has announced a new novel! It’s called Paradise Rot and it’s hitting store shelves October 2 via the good graces of Penguin Random House and the heartwarming radicals over at Verso. Congrats on that multi-hyphenate status, Jenny!
Billed as “a lyrical and uncompromising debut novel,” the book “presents a heady and hyper-sensual portrayal of sexual awakening and queer desire,” which is easily my favorite genre of prose. SPOILER WARNING!! Here’s a plot synopsis to tide you over until you have to brace yourself against that biting autumn breeze:
Jo is in a strange new country for university, and having a more peculiar time than most. A house with no walls, a roommate with no boundaries, and a home that seems ever more alive. Jo’s sensitivity, and all her senses, become increasingly heightened and fraught, as the lines between bodies and plants, and dreaming and wakefulness, blur and mesh.
I know, I know; you’re just dying to know the page length, ISBN, and physical dimensions of the paperback. Well, I have good news and better news: the good news is that you can find all that information over at the Penguin Random House site; the better news is that you can pre-order Paradise Rot over there, too! Finally, Paradise Lost gets the gritty modern reboot we all know it deserves!
Norwegian experimental artist Jenny Hval has released a number of great albums over the years, most recently 2016’s Blood Bitch, and earlier this month she put out a collaborative EP with Håvard Volden under the name Lost Girls. 2018 will also find Hval turning toward a different medium: literature. As More »
Houston has had a year. In August, the world watched as Hurricane Harvey submerged the city in an incomprehensible amount of water, and as freeways turned into gushing rivers, the country turned to memories of Katrina and the vast devastation it caused. And a month after Harvey hit, the Houston Astros won their first World … More »
In this space in past years, I’ve usually written about which music-video directors had the best years. It’s a variation of the auteur theory, as visionaries like Nabil and Hiro Murai have used artists as vehicles for their ideas and approaches. This year, though, it feels like the artists themselves who are driving things, and … More »