It’s a fools errand to question the intensity of Jenny Hval’s ambition. Her writing is filled with these bold explorations into sex, womanhood, spirituality and identity, and it somehow manages to be cuttingly sharp and hazily abstract at the same time. With her 2016’s period piece, Blood Bitch, the Norwegian artist brilliantly balanced ambient and avant-garde textures with rich, vivid imagery to create a crowning, transcendental statement.
So how exactly does Hval follow this triumph? Well, it’s simple: she tops it.
The Practice of Love is simply Hval’s best record yet; it’s her boldest, her most poetically written, her most collaborative and, oddly enough, her most accessible work to date. She redirects her sound through the textures of ’90s techno, infusing her unspooling meditations on love with a cerebral pulse.
If the concept sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. The record explores the multitudes of intimacy, from the warmth of a friend to the hushed passion of a lover, with an astral poignancy.
Take the stunning lead single, “Ashes To Ashes.” A flurry of Hval’s dreams— dreams of death, of music and, yes, of fucking—the song moves in a stream of consciousness to elicit an out-of-body experience that swirls further and further into endless reverie. It’s carried by a somewhat off-kilter thump that acts as a sort of engine that carries the song forward with every step.
The Practice of Love‘s songs all encompass a suite, but the record’s concept leads to some of the best individual tracks in Hval’s repertoire. The opener, “Lions,” begins with a free-associative monologue from Singaporean psych rocker Vivian Wang that Hval builds around with militant drums and gently arping synths. She explores birth and conception over the subdued, motorik pulse of “Accident.” “High Alice” kicks off with a tight drum loop that Hval uses to probe the depths of nature and the fauna surrounding her. With smooth saxophones and the usage of the phrase “pleasure dome,” the song is wildy arcane, an out-of-body experience in and of itself.
And then there’s the brilliant penultimate track, “Six Red Cannas.” Referring to Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous series of flower paintings, the song is an esoteric, surreal exploration of female brilliance, art and the state of being. Drawing a parallel to Joni Mitchell’s marvelous “Amelia,” Hval sees O’Keeffe as her version of Amelia Earhart, seeing the painter’s (unwittingly) erotic flowers in the sky like Mitchell saw the pilot’s vapor trails. What’s more, it’s all chained by this grimy, insistent thump, one aimed straight at the dance floor.
A mission statement for The Practice of Love, the song is a marvelous extension of the genius of womanhood, and in turn a perfect representation of everything the record holds close; on a record of highs, “Six Red Cannas” is Hval at her highest.
Score: 🌷🌷🌷🌷 / 5