#49. Jenny Hval: Apocalypse, girl
Lady Gaga hijacked the term “art pop” in 2013 when she used it as the title of her fourth album. It’s a shame that it’s become so closely associated with her since then, because in reality it refers to a much broader umbrella of music, of which Gaga’s is some of the tamest and most streamlined for contemporary radio. A much better face for the genre would be somebody like Kate Bush, who was stretching boundaries thirty years before Gaga’s debut. Jenny Hval doesn’t make art pop the way that Lady Gaga does, but it feels appropriate to place her in the same lineage as Bush; however, Hval’s music is much more experimental than either of theirs.
Jenny Hval is hard to peg down. Apocalypse, girl opens with free verse, spoken word lyrics about America, gender roles, and four large bananas that slowly rot in Hval's lap by the time the song ends. From there she goes on to explore feminism, religion, capitalism, sex, and western culture over pliable music that dabbles in alternative rock, white noise, and electropop. Hval even flirts with classical instrumentation, tossing in the occasional marimba, harp, or string section for good measure.
Of all the topics Hval likes to sing about, her favorites seem to be gender identity and sex. On “Sabbath,” she remembers being “six or seven and dreaming that (she’s) a boy.” Her lyrics are unabashedly erotic, but often in a way that removes sensuality from sexuality. On “Take Care of Yourself,” she questions what the titular phrase means: “Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market...being healthy...shaving in all the right places?” She goes on to juxtapose masturbation and love, somehow managing to meld the two into a single concept. The song leads into “The Battle is Over,” a fantastic alternative rock track that channels Kate Bush’s piercing falsetto.
Hval can get too lofty with her subject matter at times. “Heaven” is a captivating electropop tune—at least for the bulk of the track, although it begins with white noise and ends with cascading harps and operatic vocals—that explores the ironic pairing of religion and emotional detachment. But she gets a bit heavy-handed when she repeatedly compares her own age to the age Jesus was when he died. She has a tendency to make overt statements like this which potentially undermine the subtext of her lyrics. She doesn’t have a knack for subtlety, adding suffixes like “in America” to the ends of sentences when they’re not needed to get her point across. Then again, subtlety is the last thing Hval is going for on Apocalypse, girl.