REVIEW: Jenny Hval - 'The Long Sleep' EP
Written for The Independent [23/5/18].
Norwegian avant-gardist Jenny Hval has an insatiably curious mind. She’s concerned with addressing life’s questions more than providing answers.
On The Long Sleep EP, the follow-up to 2016’s Nordic Music Prize-winning album Blood Bitch, Hval traverses the arenas of life, death and rebirth in an ironically short burst of 23 minutes. Few artists can stretch the mind to such effect.
On Blood Bitch there were confessions of desire (“The Great Undressing”). On her fifth album, 2015’s Apocalypse, girl, feminism was writ large on “Kingsize” (“Think big, girl/Like a king”). But The Long Sleep is more concerned with the lifecycle, the existential, and, in parts, is more sonically expansive.
Hval’s enlisting of celebrated jazz musicians for the record makes for a free-flowing, sedative listen throughout. EP opener “Spells” awakens slowly with each instrument coming to: a cascading piano trickles into life, brass instruments hum, and a Nineties baggy beat bounces in. “You will not be awake for long/We’ll meet in the smallest, great unknown,” Hval sings with a mellifluous falsetto at its sky-scraping chorus. “Spells” denotes the exciting beginnings of life. In typically contrary style, however, Hval also notes its futility, deadpanning: “Exercising everything by typing into nothing.” Is there ultimately more life in death?
“The Dreamer Is Everyone In Her Dream” borrows the piano of “Spells” but turns it into a lullaby. Here, Hval likens a broken person to a disco ball, capable of emitting light despite the darkness lurking beneath. A dreamlike state is born of a 10-minute meditation on “The Long Sleep” before death – or rebirth – arrives at “I Want To Tell You Something.” Hval ponders: “There should be something I could say directly without lyrics and melody.” As with the closing line in “The Great Undressing”, she opts for “I love you”. Maybe in the madness of life and the long sleep that follows, love is all that matters.