Jenny Hval is a Norwegian artist and writer. With her background in writing and performance her music is poetic, sensual, challenging, dark and beautiful as well as melodic and spacious. Viscera is set in the body. The songs are stories of flesh and travelling, both sensual and provocative. She wanted to make free music, without a conceptual framework, but realised after recording the album that all the songs deal with travelling in one way or another. Some songs have a modernist protagonist - an unknown and yet present I - whereas other songs take place in the body, visceral travelling. Inside becomes outside, the body is turned inside out.The music for Viscera was composed and arranged by improvising. It follows the lyrics wherever they go: spoken word, surrealist folk tales, or just plain provocative imagery. Modernist fantasy? Fantastic anatomy? Viscera is the first album using her own name.In 2006, Hval released her successfull debut album To Sing You Apple Trees under the moniker Rockettothesky. The album received rave reviews and became a surprise hit with its mix of pop, poetry and rampant sexuality. She was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy in the Best New Act category and she played most of the big Norwegian festivals in 2007, as well as shows and small festivals in UK and Europe. With her second album, Medea (2008, also as Rockettothesky), a different and more experimental tone was set. Hval invoked the greek tragic heroine Medea the monstrous mother, powerful sorceress, and foreign woman through spoken word and improvised sound textures. She also started playing live with free improv musicians Håvard Volden (guitar) and Kyrre Laastad (drums & percussion). Since the release of Medea , Hval has completed several other projects: composing and performing the commissioned piece Meshes of Voice with singer and composer Susanna Wallumrød (Susanna and the Magical Orchestra) for Ladyfest 2009, composing and performing at the Ultima Festival for Contemporary Music, published the slightly controversial novel Perlebryggeriet ( The Pearl Brewery , 2009) and started a free folk/improv duo with Håvard Volden (Nude on Sand).
An album born from improvisation, by a woman whose last album, Medea, was inspired by the murderous and abandoned sorceress of Greek legend, is duty bound to sound like an incantation. For her third album, Jenny Hval serves up lengthy tracts of serene siren song, with a pinch of acid folk, a touch of post-rock and a soupcon of goth. That makes Viscera sound slavishly retro whereas it’s anything but; note the fact the cutting-edge Rune Grammofon label are on board. If the album does tap the shivery lure and lust of ancient North European song, it’s all on her own terms. In any case, Hval doesn’t have to force the mood for a second; it’s in her Norwegian blood.
Viscera actually means the body’s internal organs, specifically in the chest and abdomen. Research into the musical impact on the pancreas or intestine is still in its formative stages but it at least sounds like Hval’s heart is in freefall. Perhaps it comes after trying out mainstream pop gloss on her 2006 debut To Sing You Apple Trees, released under the pseudonym Rockettothesky. Released in 2008, Medea’s choral-electronic tone poems pointed a way to Viscera, but under her own name at last, Hval sounds like she’s finally come home. The mood is more earthbound and primeval. Intuitive to Viscera’s pale guitar extemporisations and matching colours (synths, church organ, zither and its sadly sidelined six-string cousin, the psaltery) is the feel of endless winter darkness and summer dusks. The eight-minute This Is a Thirst sounds like Hval is channelling the dawn chorus itself, Golden Locks and Black Morning are more concentrated pastoral-misty, while Milk of Marrow and Blood Flight could be long-lost tracks from The Wicker Man soundtrack.
But for all the efforts of Hval’s cohorts Håvard Volden and Kyree Laastad, it’s her vocals at the heart of the spell. Her range of Elysian chanting, siren song and occasional growls isn’t groundbreaking but the delivery – almost theatrical at times – might stop you in her tracks. If she’s reminiscent of anyone, it’s nobody Scandinavian but exalted Canadian Mary Margaret O’Hara.
There’s one track that suggest Hval isn’t content to get lost in nature. The backdrop to Portrait of the Young Girl as an Artist begins as an eerie electronic haze over distant drums, unexpectedly slides into fully-charged Viking rock throb, and ends in a blizzard that buries Hval’s wailing protest. With Viscera, she’s clearly onto something. This may be just music but your internal organs will know exactly what sorcery she’s casting here.
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