The avant-garde artist Jenny Hval is following in the footsteps of many feminist creatives and using the processes of a woman’s body as a starting point for her new album, Blood Bitch. As her sixth record, it is undeniably the most masterful and controversial of the bunch. With her floating, undulating melodies utilizing strange images and explicit samples, this album is one to shock and intrigue a listener.
Her voice on this record is all at once ethereal, cool and effortless. It fits perfectly into both the concept (menstrual blood, vampirism, womanhood, etc.) and her ambient/pop melodies. The album begins with the short, sweet and almost whispered “Ritual Awakening.” It is like an awakening. It accomplishes what it sets out to do – it wakes us to the album carefully, readying the listener for a beautiful and profound experience. Her voice is innocent, lovely and slightly sexy. The song that follows, “Female Vampire,” gets the album moving. Though it is not particularly fast-paced, the panting that closes the track evokes powerful images: images of running, of masturbation, of sex. Her whispered “It hurts…” gives our imaginations even more to work with.
“Conceptual Romance” sounds almost like a Middle-Eastern track, but it varies vocally; she shouts, sings sweetly, her voice retreats to a smokier place and she speaks directly to the listener, connecting at a level unprecedented for artsier works like Blood Bitch. However because this addresses such universal concepts, it is easy to get to and stay in the world Hval creates. “Untamed Region” begins with pencil scratches against parchment. It’s like we are listening to her write a letter, each stroke backed by a beautiful soundscape. The track almost functions as ASMR and leaves us relaxed and comfortable. The other sound samples – English radio, her whispered stories of the loss of innocence, the childlike confusion of first blood – though a little disquieting, are still relaxing. Her voice is a lullaby.
“The Great Undressing” begins with someone mocking her concept, a sample she quickly covers with a beautiful pop melody and gorgeous synths. Whispers swim in and out of the song and we listen to her soft crooning in a kind of trance; though it sounds sad, it’s still pleasing to the ear. Both “Period Piece,” the following song and “Secret Touch,” are very similar to “Conceptual Romance,” though both are a bit quicker in regard to tempo. Eighth track “The Plague” is incredibly different from the rest of the album. It relies heavily on a tribal beat, noisy effects and a vocal sample of a conversation that plays throughout the middle of the track. It is easily the most effective and least traditional song off the record, but it is not the most masterful, nor is it the most fun to listen to. That would be “Untamed Region.” The combination of spoken-word, sound bites and atmospheric sound are simply too beautiful to resist.
The album ends with the delicate “Lorna,” which features light vocals mixed with what sounds like spoken-word poetry. It is the perfect end to this work of art; this album is almost visual. It’s easy to imagine the growth of this woman – her discovery and acceptance of herself and of her womanhood. Of course it isn’t as simple as that. Blood Bitch addresses the strange double standard in place in our society when it comes to talking about the bodies of the different sexes, what it means to be a woman and sex in its many forms. It likely discusses other things, too – it deserves many listens to fully appreciate it.