A Journey into the Surreal
The very appropriately titled Meshes of Voice brings together two rather different Norwegian artists, Jenny Hval and Susanna Wallumrød, on an album ensnared in the influences of surrealism and mythology, like the neo-gothic modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudí and Maya Deren’s 1943 film Meshes of the Afternoon. Written for 2009’s Ladyfest, a global music and arts festival for women and feminist artists, Meshes of Voice expertly combines Hval and Wallumrød’s talents in an uncanny, phantasmagorical journey into the psyche.
The album begins with “Droplet,” where light synths in semitones create an ethereal, spooky mood. It’s something like what the aurora borealis might sound like, if it had a sound. From this very minimalistic beginning, the album transitions seamlessly into “Black Lake,” where moody, brooding piano chords accompany full-toned, rich vocals. This is the allegorical conceit around which the album is built: it circles around this idea of something dark at the center of oneself, reflected in the physical body. “My heart is a black lake, / rippling inside my chest,” they sing. The song sinks into static and feedback, for a time, until the piano and vocal melodies return. Hval and Wallumrød sing in counterpoint, Wallumrød with a sweet, childlike soprano lullaby, Hval a robust alto.
Much of the album takes its cue from this format, mingling Hval and Wallumrød’s distinct aesthetics. “I Have Walked This Body,” the album’s single and longest track, showcases the duality of their songs; Wallumrød’s melodic voice rings out against the harsh static and distorted effects Hval’s solo music favors, creating a tension between the pleasing and the grating. The saturnine, somber “I Have a Darkness” also balances their styles. The real strength of Meshes of Voice is that Hval and Wallumrød found ways to complement and enhance their music with their respective strengths, rather than recording an album that rocks back and forth between the two, tugged apart by different egos with different goals.
This album exudes a remarkable unity, flowing smoothly between tracks, unfolding almost imperceptibly. The almost-creepy “Milk Pleasures,” a very minimal track with light synths, slides into “I Have Walked This Body,” and the delicate “O Sun O Medusa” blends into “A Mirror in My Mouth,” and so on. But this unity goes beyond sonic harmony and extends into the thematic, too: like a good novel, the album’s themes resurface periodically, recycling bits of lyrics and ideas. Meshes of Voice is preoccupied with the body and its functions, with milk and thirst and skin, with mouths and eyes and lips and tongue. On “A Sudden Swing,” they sing, “Along my spine, / a sudden swing, / a swing of skin,” and the only lyrics to “House of Bones” are “I am a house of bones,” repeated over and over. “Running Down” recalls “Milk Pleasures,” and “Dawn” circles back to “Honey Dew.” The closing track, “The Black Lake Took,” returns to the image of the black lake that anchors the album.
Though Meshes of Voice is Hval and Wallumrød’s first collaboration, they’ve found in each other the perfect match: dark and light that come together to make something altogether different. One can only hope there’s more to come.