Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch


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Leave it to Jenny Hval to make an album that taps into the full symbolic power of blood: Her voice and music have a piercing, penetrating quality that suggests a knife, or in this case, fangs. Her fourth album under her own name, Blood Bitch -- a title that calls to mind a red-soaked Carrie -- uses vampire and menstrual imagery to express different kinds of hunger and purging in scary, sexy, raw, and sophisticated ways. "The Great Undressing" is all of these at once, a confession of creative and emotional need that compares capitalism to unrequited love in a stream-of-consciousness gush. Though Hval is no stranger to visceral moments like this, she offers them with less distance than ever before on Blood Bitch. "Period Piece" makes this point more literally, when a gynecologist's speculum leaves her feeling connected instead of separated. Similarly, Hval presents the dense layers within her art with a lighter touch -- an equal and opposite reaction to the sometimes overwhelming Apocalypse, Girl. For the first time since her work as Rockettothesky, Hval's music is almost poppy. It's a move that feels even more subversive considering she co-produced Blood Bitch with noise artist Lasse Marhaug. Indeed, the album's pretty synth-pop surfaces only make it more complex: Named after a 1973 horror movie, "Female Vampire" is ominously alluring as it introduces the gender-fluid vampire that haunts Blood Bitch, trapped in an eternal night fleshed out by distant saxophones and panting breath. And if these songs are more structured than Hval's previous work, they're also more vulnerable; her fragile singing on the rapturous "Secret Touch" and the cerebral yet tender "Conceptual Romance" expands on the transporting beauty hinted at on Innocence Is Kinky. Hval's music often borders on performance art, and Blood Bitch is no exception. The album could pass for a soundtrack or a radio play, and the evocative sound design taps into the subconscious on "In the Red," where heavy breathing blurs the line between lust and dread. The '60s and '70s cult horror homages are inspired; "Ritual Awakening" could be the title of an old movie, while "Untamed Region" juxtaposes flutey synths that evoke the dreamlike feel of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders with Adam Curtis' thoughts on nonlinear warfare to evoke horrors both fantastic and all too real. On the climax "The Plague," Hval and Marhaug blend the naked terror of vintage horror -- haunted house screams and sobs, a church organ that sounds sacred and sacrilegious -- with postmodern humor as Hval stops the song dead to mention “last night I took my birth control with rosé.” It's just another example of how sounds and concepts flow into each other as potently as blood itself on Blood Bitch, a bewitching album from an artist at the peak of her powers.