Jenny Hval: “Ashes to Ashes”

It’s a strange feeling to hear a new Jenny Hval record and almost wish it were less accessible. Though each successive release from the Norwegian experimental musician and writer tends to win praise for being (relatively) approachable, her prior albums—from 2011’s Viscera to 2016’s Blood Bitch—are often abstract and provocative, brilliant not for their immediacy but for how they stick with you. “Ashes to Ashes,” the first single from Hval’s upcoming The Practice of Love, may initially sound like yet another interesting indie act trying her hand at upscale synth-pop, but the song reveals itself as a sly reframing of what Hval has been doing all along.

On her best songs, Hval gently coos gnomic reflections on the human body, creativity, and sexuality, set to shape-shifting, adventurous music that hints at how weird and grotesque all this “being a physical person who can reproduce and will die” stuff is. With “Ashes to Ashes,” Hval once again does all that in a new way. Catchy hooks, uptempo thumps, and strobe-like shimmers turn out to be a Trojan Horse for a series of reminiscences about dreams—about the acts of burial, songwriting, and fucking, in that order—delivered with the off-kilter elegance you’d expect from a keen student of Kate Bush and Björk. By the song’s end, these reveries seem to blend into each other, the narrator’s two fingers playing an instrument, reaching into a honeypot, digging her own grave. Hval may be at her most approachable here, but unlike the norm for listening to strangers’ dreams, she’s never boring.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/tracks/ashes-to-ashes/

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