On The Great Undressing, track six on JENNY HVAL‘s new album Blood Bitch, a character takes a dismissive view of the record: ‘that’s so basic. ‘It’s about vampires!’. Having spent a couple of weeks in its company, Blood Bitch is certainly not a basic record. Blood Bitch is an album about, among a lot of other things, menstruation, a subject Hval explores with the same laser-focused honesty she brought to sex and porn on her previous records (‘At night I watch people fucking on my computer’ a notable line from 2013’s Innocence Is Kinky).
Period blood drips all over the record, on the bed and about to be spread all over the room as territorial marking on Untamed Region. Hval’s revolution involves bringing that which is supposed to be hidden and shameful to the point of near non-existence, be it sex, masturbation, birth control or periods, and forcing it into the open by presenting it in bare normality.
A weapon against a world of Instagram censorship and Tampon Taxes
The way she brings these topics and makes them part of the everyday environment around her is the political power in her work. On Blood Bitch and Apocalypse, girl, her previous outing, sex and menstruation aren’t just openly present, they’re as normal and obvious a part of her life as furniture and bus tickets, and therefore obviously part of the conversation. Her stark honesty is a weapon against a world of Instagram censorship and Tampon Taxes.
The actual music on JENNY HVAL’s albums can sometimes go a little under the radar in reviews, as people fixate on the big quotes in the lyrics. But HVAL’s musical world is as deep and layered as her lyrics, and Blood Bitch is no exception. She stretches her pop legs on Conceptual Romance, a wash of crystal synths and soft beats. The Plague swirls between skittering rhythms, nightmare synths and bursts of frenzied, horror movie influenced howls, while Period Piece is gentler, a more dreamy synth pop. Packed in between these songs is a music library’s worth of noise, deep valleys of experimental soundscapes.
Musically, Blood Bitch’s structure doesn’t even pretend to resemble a normal record.
Instead, it’s confusing to listen to, a heartbeat flickering in and out of time, phrases hissing in and out of the fuzz, mutant synth howls, occasionally coalescing into solid songs and rhythms only to fade into abstraction yet again. The brief clip from Adam Curtis’ documentary about non-linear information gives a clue as to why this is. It could be interpreted that Blood Bitch is structured a lot like the information flow Curtis talks about, like waves of smoke, too overwhelming to be ever fully confident that you’ve grasped it. JENNY HVAL’s themes flash into these scenes like lightning bolts: marketed love, being sucked dry by vampiric capitalism, and of course, the blood.
It’s difficult to do this album justice in a piece as short as this (or any piece really). I haven’t even been able to discuss that vampirical themes that fuel it, the horror movie influences or a number of other things. So my best advice is to listen, really listen, to Blood Bitch, read every interview, dive in deep. Because the one thing that I can say is that Blood Bitch is worth it. It’s a record that’ll scrape the rust off the way you see the world and send your thoughts scurrying in strange directions. And that’s what music’s supposed to fucking do.