Review: Jenny Hval – Classic Objects

Jenny Hval puts beauty and artistic freedom front and centre of her ethereal new record

The fact that Jenny Hval calls her latest LP Classic Objects her ‘pop album‘ speaks to just how left-field her previous musical ventures have been. Far from conventional, Classic Objects opens with a vibrant, rhythmic meditation on the institution of marriage and concludes questioning the value of art in a commercial system, slipping into spacey ambience, dreamy synth-scapes and opaque spoken word passages in between.

And yet the adventurous Norwegian musician’s latest record undoubtedly is one of her most accessible. Weaving the ambient sounds and slow, expansive melodies of 2016’s Blood Bitch with the angelic vocals and effortless melody that accompanied dance beats on 2019’s The Practice of Love, Classic Objects is Hval at her most exquisite.

But often the effortless flow and radiant harmonies disguise uneasy, challenging lyrics. Opener ‘Year of Love’ recounts the moment when one of Hval’s 2019 concerts was interrupted by a marriage proposal in the audience. The ‘normcore institution’ of marriage was, in Hval’s eyes, uncomfortably discordant with her avant-garde artistic values, but it is a tradition she herself participated in when she tied the knot the previous year.

This moment of self-doubt is scattered into a spectrum of pastel tones in Hval’s soft, bustling soundscape, aptly illustrating the tension between the dual aims of her of art: beauty and honesty. On ‘American Coffee’, Hval recalls suffering from a UTI at the cinema, while a glorious sunrise of synths forms an ironically heavenly backdrop to her earthy lyrics. But this unremarkable event, much like the proposal in ‘Year of Love’, leads to ever deeper questioning:

And I felt I crossed paths with a version of me
A concept, you could say, but not she who stayed behind
She who quit everything, music, and identity
Just left a little blood behind and a fever for me to share.

And just as the physical, the base and mundane expands into something profound and universal in her lyrics, Hval’s intoxicating key changes and refreshing instrumental diversions transport us between musical spaces. Many of the songs begin loose and airy, much like the meandering pieces on Hval’s debut album, but partway through, percussion drops in and the ethereal cadences cohere into gorgeous melodies.

But one of Hval’s most impressive set-pieces, the magnificent 8-minute space odyssey ‘Jupiter’, follows the opposite pattern. Awash in the splendour of crashing cymbals and streaked with trails of glittering synths, the song eventually fades to a distant thrum and leaves us drifting weightless through space. Hval’s lyrics are just as abstractly evocative. ‘I could open my mouth,’ she claims, ‘and pour out mirages’.

Next to such rich lines of impressionistic poetry, the lyrics of the final two tracks, filled with calls to liberate and democratise art, could risk coming across a little trite: ‘I want to live in a democracy, somewhere where art is free’ pleads ‘Freedom’; ‘This song is regulated by copyright regulations,’ concedes ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Owned’, ‘and dreaming doesn’t have copyright.’ But sung in her haunting tone, and threaded through a web of harp strings and a whirlwind of piano, Hval’s words are just enough to back up her creative mission: to make her art matter more than her ownership of it.

Listen to Classic Objects on Tidal

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