“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again/ I’m complex and intellectual,” says Norwegian singer and producer Jenny Hval on her 2015 album ‘Apocalypse, girl.’ That album mixed together abstract sound, white noise and tinges of electro-pop with her own existential musings, which covered everything from gender and self-pleasure to spiritual rebirth and the nature of domesticity. She also said the word “cunt” a lot. Like she stated herself, it was an intriguing, clever web of ideas, but one that was also highly provocative and, sometimes, confrontational.
Despite the mild swear in its title, with ‘Blood Bitch’ Jenny wanted to break away from some of the expectations generated by ‘Apocalypse, girl.’ Although, it did have quite an eyebrow-raising first title: ‘No Cunts.’ There was a good reason behind the directness though.
“That was my goal, to make something without that language. Not purely because of the response that ‘Apocalypse..’ got, but I just thought ‘what would people not expect now?’ I thought it would be funny to write without cunts,” she explains. Still, she’s not convinced that it’s just the language that contributes to her latest, more accessible incarnation. “I don’t know if cutting out the cunts makes anything more anything more accessible,” she reasons. “I mean, accessible can be on so many levels, but I do think that it’s an album that’s easy to listen to.”
She’s not wrong – ‘Blood Bitch’ might be the most easily listenable work she’s ever produced. Yes, there are still some elements of noise music and experimentalism (as on the choppy ‘The Plague’) and the production is extremely lo-fi. Jenny still moves between spoken-word, sweet singing and almost abstract poetic passages, with words sometimes chosen purely because “it sounds good with a particular drum or synthesiser.” But on ‘Female Vampire,’ ‘Conceptual Romance’ and ‘Secret Touch’ in particular there’s definitely more than a touch of pop. It’s almost (whisper it quietly) upbeat. Jenny is aware of that too: “I think the headspace was quite happy for this album.”
Much of the record’s lo-fi atmosphere was a conscious decision, made to reflect a certain sense of emotional openness. “I wanted to stick to the lightness that I had with the demos, but also wanted the demos to be the album,” she explains. “That meant I had to improvise a lot in the studio and be very vulnerable, which I haven’t done to this extent before.” There was also another reason behind the distinctively DIY aesthetic of ‘Blood Bitch.’
“I had several years where I haven’t really been so into watching films. So this was a period when I was inspired and watching tons of movies when recording,” Jenny says. She began to watch more exploitation movies and, after receiving something of a recommendation, was particularly drawn to the work of Spanish director Jesús Franco (Venus in Furs, Count Dracula). “[His films are] very lo-fi and ‘Blood Bitch’ is an album made in the lo-fi universe,” she explains. “There’s a strong link there between the production and the writing situation of ‘Blood Bitch’ and those low budget movies.”
It wasn’t always easy to make the connections between her own, liberal-minded work and those often misogynist, hyper-violent exploitation movies, though. “I had to do a lot of work to piece together horrible narratives, horrible characters, nude women for no reason, vampires, Frankenstein.” Though it wasn’t all blood and guts; Jenny found herself latching on to the “very kitschy elements, but also the hypnotic belief in camera movements, the obsession with boredom and the modern condition of the 70s.” Jenny Berger Myhre’s video for ‘Female Vampire’ represents this connection almost perfectly. Using only an iPhone to film and focusing on long, languid shots, the clip captured the low budget look and fascination with tedium associated with exploitation.
Despite this, Jenny doesn’t believe that there’s a solid concept behind ‘Blood Bitch’ – just interconnecting elements. “There’s never anything behind an album,” she says, believing that having a firm concept to work around is actually a hindrance to her creative process. “If I’d planned and had concepts in that sort of way, I wouldn’t be able to show any vulnerability.” She uses a typically bloody metaphor to illustrate her point: “It’s like menstruation. You have to put it in a tampon or a pad or a cup, otherwise it doesn’t exist. The period blood gets the shape of a tampon or a lovely shape of a cup. It needs to have that shape or it’s uncontainable.”
Still, with Jenny herself talking a lot about blood, and the album containing songs called ‘Period Piece’ and ‘Untamed Region,’ it’s hard to dismiss that vaginas are still a theme within her music. According to her, this connection was apparently something of an afterthought. “I did find that there were these elements of menstruation in the final stages of mixing, so the titles were changed into things that could be changed into images of menstruation or blood […] To me, menstruation on this album is not the practical conversation that is being had a lot, though it is inspired by me travelling with women and making art together with women.”
Just because the menses on ‘Blood Bitch’ isn’t meant to be physical doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth discussing. Indeed, she is disappointed that it isn’t more a part of everyday dialogue: “For a lot of human beings, it’s frustrating that it’s still kind of hidden from view. People still react to it in a stand-offish kind of way.”
Jenny believes that the way we look at art in particular has been dominated by the discourse of a “macho, avant-garde and tough kind of male world,” which has meant that menstruation as a spiritual and existential concept has been seriously devalued. “It’s not been part of philosophy, except when it’s been the reason why women are impure, or the reason why women shouldn’t do or say this or that,” she continues. “There’s a really amazing deep part of that discussion where there’s room for menstruation and these under-discussed themes of life.”
These existential, philosophical and spiritual explorations contained within ‘Blood Bitch’ throw up more questions than they do answers. “The more I thought about it, the more I was connecting various things. Does history menstruate? What if it did? How amazing would that be? And if vampires menstruate, is that eternal? Is that life giving?” she ponders. These questions are seemingly rhetorical (“I don’t have any answers!” she quips) but they do prove one thing. Despite the more open and accessible nature of the music on ‘Blood Bitch,’ Jenny Hval is still superbly complex and intellectual.