Many many years ago I became friends with a tiny Norwegian girl who was living in Melbourne. She was studying at Melbourne Uni where I was studying. She was a singer in a few bands and had a phenomenally strange and amazing voice. She was quietly eccentric and it turned out she made private music as well - I was very impressed listening to her private little creations. When her minidisc player broke she gave me all of her minidiscs which had a tops collection of the Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush and Boards of Canada AND - all of her demos. So I walked around the streets of Melbourne and listened to her demos to death, deciding quietly that I was onto something very very special indeed.
She returned to Norway and made an album called To Sing You Apple Trees which was successful since it had a single or two that was quite poppy in it's appeal. I recall thinking at the time that close to every song on the album referred to various body parts, quite visceral in its lyrics, perhaps not in its musical tone. This album ended with the astoundingly beautiful A Flock of Cheshire Cats, which lingers in your mind long after the stereo has quietened, quite a luxurious silence.
Her next album Medea was more Laurie Anderson than pop, far less commercial but achingly beautiful. In listening to it I realised that she was not aiming for broad appeal but reaching very very ambitiously for some greater - something more akin to rock immortality. Oh Anna is a strange novelty, a song in two stages which takes you from electronic darkness to the Technicolor brilliance of its synthetic climax.
The literary focus of her lyrics evident beyond mistake, having built an interest in English literature whilst studying in Melbourne. She has since published a Norwegian poetry book which I, alas, cannot read. Perhaps this is for the better though.
She recently came back to Australia and I saw her perform in Hobart at the Alley Cat with her band. I fell in love with the song Milk of Marrow, a long and drawn out shimmering Lanois introduction to the almost swaggering and anthemic body of the song, Hval singing with more purity in her tone than her usual ethereal meanderings.
I bought her album recently and listened to it for the first time today .... Listening to this album, under her real name for the first time - Jenny Hval - I realise that she has entered a more complete phase of music writing. Perhaps like Smog morphing into Bill Callahan, Hval has become even more like herself. Golden Locks almost freezes the listening experience into a complete catharsis and there is something extraordinary about the suspended state of Blood Flight. I was lucky enough to discover the video clip for this track on youtube. It was created by Hval and her guitarist Havard Volden whilst in Australia, driving up the Hume Highway towards Sydney, characters from the lyrics such as the clitoral sphinx race across the sepia-toned barren landscape - a very fitting visualisation to the drive of the piece. In something that I feel echoes the concept of Oh Anna, the 7-minute Portrait of the Young Girl as an Artist splits the album into two neat apple halves with it's expansive rock-strength. The last two pieces have the gentle feeling of an epilogue helping us digest this story of the body, with the simplicity of a more direct song in the last piece A Silver Fox.
Happy digestion - You can get her album at Rune Grammofon.
I recommend with magnificence!!