by Phil Scarisbrick
Nobody could ever accuse Norwegian artist, Jenny Hval, of being a conventional songwriter. Her last long player – 2016’s Blood Bitch – tackled subjects such as periods, death and vampires. The sweetness of the melodies only fleetingly took the weight off the heavy lyrics, creating a record that was darkly captivating. Her new album, The Practice Of Love, shares a familiar blueprint with Blood Bitch, though there is little by the way of Bram Stokerisms on show here. The new collection of eight songs furnishes her poetic musings on the human condition with synth-heavy electro, and may well be her finest – and most intimate – record to date.
The title gives the impression that this is a simple exploration of popular music’s most tried and tired subject matter, love. Anyone familiar with Hval’s work though wouldn’t expect anything short of an abstract and nuanced take on anything she covers. The rumbling electronic beat of the opening track, Lions, shimmies around beneath Hval and Vivien Wang’s intertwined sung an spoken words, as they analyse the world around them. Wang features sporadically across the whole record along with Laura Jean and Félicia Atkinson adding alternative angles for the puzzles Hval is trying to solve. The vivid imagery that Lions describes (‘Study the raindrops on the leaves/Study the ants on the ground’) continues on High Alice, as you’re drawn into a world that tangibly shifts around with melodies and ideas that are constantly developing.
Accident ponders the importance of children for those who remain childless, set against a Skype conversation in an AirBnB with a backing track that becomes more and more frenetic as the refrain – ‘She was an accident’ – swells around on top. Lead single, Ashes To Ashes is a four minute journey that blossoms with bright, shimmering synths as increasing layers of percussion build around the stunning chorus. You can’t help but be captivated by it, even as it all falls away at the end to leave you wanting to experience it all over again. Thumbsucker almost enters prog territory with its layers of synth and sax arpeggios, and layered vocals building a hypnotically nuanced sense of reflection.
While Blood Bitch was a fierce, yet captivating set of songs, it was also a heavy listen. Though The Practice Of Love shares a similar depth in the way the subjects tackled are analysed, there is a lighter feel to it that means that not only will it be more accessible to a wider audience, but also that it is more effective at making its ideas connect. Coming in at just over half an hour long, it is thrilling yet fleeting journey around the psyche of one of the most interesting minds in music today. Not only that though, it is delightful to listen to with vibrant colours and shades illuminating the mirror it holds up to the listener. It wouldn’t be going too far to label it one of the most essential records of the year.
Secret Meeting score: 87