The Milk Factory

4.7 of 5

Jenny Hval’s songs are incredibly raw and visceral affairs in which she exposes her every emotion, as beautiful or disturbing as it is. On Viscera, the album she published last year on Rune Grammofon, she took this so far as to draw an extremely astute and crude picture of the human body and exhibit an incredibly vast array of bodily functions, hers and that of others, woven into wonderful miniature pop songs. One of her companions on that journey was guitarist Håvard Volden, with whom she has teamed up to form Nude On Sand. With two guitars and one voice, they present a less polished version of Hval’s work. Here more than on any of her previous projects, Hval is left utterly exposed and vulnerable as a vocalist, but, for anyone who has seen her perform live, it is a position she thrives on and thoroughly relishes.

Hval’s lyrics are as disconcertingly honest and surreal as on Viscera; her choice of words and the way she assembles them into penetrating stories, which at once make no sense yet are exceedingly meaningful, is exacerbated by the extreme minimalism of the instrumentation supporting them. Her vocal performance here is equally as challenging, as she sings, talks, breathes, whispers, screams, shrieks, snores or sighs her way through these seven songs, always searching the narrowest point between beauty and ugliness. This can take many forms; the brazen candour of Bring It Back (‘I think I left something at your house… oh yes, my virginity. Bring it back.’); the heady vocalises of Enough With The Breathing I, which she turns into a much more grating experience later on Enough With The Breathing II, on which she alternates between spoken words (‘Upside down, I felt my organs falling through my throats, one by one, lungs, liver, liver, lungs, and then the vocal cords… and the vocal cords flowed like seaweed, out of my mouth’) and piercing screeches; the obsessive repetitions of Running Down My; the lyrical sparsity of Body Tambourines…

This album is not an easy one to get one’s head around. Unlike on Viscera where instrumentation often took the edges off Hval’s most brutal effusions, everything here is devised to be seen, heard, witnessed. The sheer ascetic surrealism of this record takes some doing to stomach, but this is very much why Jenny Hval is now getting much attention. She is, like Sidsel Endresen or Maja Ratkje, a fearless performer and artist, who knows no boundaries and is incapable of compromising. Håvard Volder may be a quiet companion here, but he is one who just gets her and therefore proves a vital associate.