Jenny Hval's albums are often like manifestos. Her free-verse lyrics, on a page, read like paragraphs of some pontificating, noncommittal dissertation. But Hval's delivery has always granted them magic. A wave of sensuality crushes all that is ostentatious in her work.
She is the hub that houses her own spokes, the point at which all her antithetical ideas collide. In anyone else's hands, her material would be treading on its own toes. But she has a knack for carrying it all off. Hval, if not an intellectual, has always been a juggler of ideas.
And in recent years, Hval the songwriter has come to the fore. With last year's The Long Sleep, she released 'Spells' — her most warm and welcoming track to date. The EP as a whole represented Hval's most successful marriage of concept and material, seizing the mantle from its vampiric predecessor Blood Bitch. It even found space for one of her trademark spoken-word sections in a touching coda.
The Practice of Love further emphasises this talent for songwriting. Eschewing extended drones and sound collages, it instead unveils hit after hit of electro-inflected art-pop. Hval has also drawn in a crew of collaborators, most notably the striking and powerful vocals of Vivian Wang. Hval’s now-fragmented voice swells the album beyond vanity-project-chinstroking, and into cabbalistic beauty.
But things haven't leapt completely off-world. Hval's admirable, slightly clumsy, directness is still present. Discussion is sometimes so frank it touches embarrassment — like overhearing arguments or sex through the wall. She is an artist who can make you blush, shake your head in confusion and laugh while being overwhelmed by beauty.
On The Practice of Love, Hval says she took influence from 'trashy, mainstream trance music from the 90s'. But this album adopts the spectre of vaporwave, and contorts its influences into something full of yearning. The ancient, artifacted JPEGs; the jumble of disconnected visual noise. It has the airiness and wonder of nostalgia, but feels fiercely contemporary.
Hval probes further into herself with every release, exploring, revealing, peeling back layers of identity to find new masks beneath. And after every internal expedition, she returns with a greater treasure. The Practice of Love is her greatest yet.
The Practice of Love is released on Sept. 13th. Pre-order the album and stream its singles here.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe