Amidst whispered chimes and bowed cymbals, Jenny Hval delicately delivers the line ‘I arrived in town with an electric tooth brush pressed against my clitoris’. It is a typically provocative opening gambit from the Norwegian singer, in her first recording released under her own name and her first outing on the Rune Grammofon label. Earlier albums recorded under her Rockettothesky incarnation – 2006’s To Sing You Apple Trees and 2008’s Medea, a fantastical evocation of Euripidean pain – straddled timbral experimentation and potential leanings to the mainstream. Viscera is a very different beast and it does not make for easy listening.
Finding freedom in a more acoustically concerned setting, Hval obsesses about her vocal attack, carefully sculpting the front of notes. Her ability to dart from hushed voicing to open lyricism is astonishing. The fragile haze set up by Hval’s church organ and zither, drifting into periods of more pronounced percussion from drummer Kyrre Laastad, echoes Joanna Newsom’s darkest moments.
Above all, for Hval, it is music that plays with the primitive sensations of the human body. On Blood Fight, she swiftly articulates ‘I carefully rearranged my senses so they could have a conversation’ as guitarist Håvard Volden coaxes pulsating blocks of sound from his instrument. Moments of outstanding beauty come with pure textural manipulation – the electronic waves of sound dashed through with snatched voicing that could open ‘golden locks’.
This is an important record, one that establishes Jenny Hval as a significant force to watch alongside the likes of PJ Harvey and Björk. Viscera is certainly an uncompromising proposition. Its vocabulary runs through the female anatomy, spilling out in Hval’s vivid references to organs and primal senses: clitoris, cunt, pores, erections, blood, itching. It is feminist language that aims at a graphic anti-pornography, finding an erotic backdrop in her meandering night music.