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Jenny Hval - The Long Sleep Music Album Reviews

Jenny Hval - The Long Sleep Music Album Reviews
The experimental songwriter abandons the conceptual rigor of her recent albums, collaborating with a handful of jazz musicians on a loose, ambiguous EP where repetition induces a state of déjà vu.

If Jenny Hval’s 2016 album Blood Bitch was a closed fist, then her latest release, The Long Sleep, is an open palm. Unburdened by the rigorous editing an outstanding concept album like Blood Bitch requires, this new EP finds Hval enlisting a handful of jazz musicians to help her break free from the constraints she has previously imposed on her work. Saxophonist Espen Reinertsen gives the record a soft, melodic purr. Kyrre Laastad alternates gracefully between programmed drums and traditional percussion. Norwegian pianist Anja Lauvdal plays with such dignified restraint that the music emanating from her instrument could be the ghost of a more traditional piano performance. Surrounded by talented improvisers, Hval loosens her grip over The Long Sleep and lets the sounds she’s working with roam freely across the mix.

The EP opens, on “Spells,” with Lauvdal gingerly fluttering between notes on an out-of-tune piano. A swell of high-pitched trumpets gradually takes over, constructing a brassy wall of sound. A vibrating synth noise slithers through a crack in the edifice, making room for the sustained notes of a tenor saxophone to follow. “You are your own disco ball,” Hval sings, her glassy vocals buoyed by muted drum tones. “Hovering above you like a comforting reminder, that not even you belong to you.” Her words suggest that detachment from one’s self can bring a sense of peace. By multi-tracking her vocals in the chorus, Hval constructs an infinity mirror of sound, her harmony and melody surrounding the listener like light bouncing off of that disco ball.

Bits from “Spells” reappear unexpectedly throughout the record. “You are your own disco ball” and other familiar lyrics become circular thoughts, bleeding into the next track, “The Dreamer Is Everyone in Her Dream,” and beyond. Listening to The Long Sleep is like existing in a constant state of déjà vu.

Hval’s voice is as high and delicate throughout the EP as the sound a wine glass makes when you wind a wet finger around its rim, and those vocals perfectly complement Lauvdal’s light touch in the opening of “The Dreamer.” The lull is interrupted when the tempo picks up and repetitive incantations couple with incessant clapping as the song crashes into its second half. The arrangement evokes that terrifying moment when a good dream abruptly goes bad. Nightmares are apparently part of this long sleep, too.

At nearly 11 minutes long, the title track is The Long Sleep’s slow-wave stage. Its tonal palette occasionally recalls the whooshing, womb-like noises Matmos used a washing machine to produce on Ultimate Care II, but Hval’s rendering of this trance state is mostly unique.Drones that sound something like lightsabers in battle periodically cut across the track, while her voice reverberates in the background, uttering phrases of which only isolated words are discernible: “distances,” “vast,” “open,” “asleep.” The dream deepens. Sounds reminiscent of a bullfrog’s bassy croak and the twitter of an agitated cicada creep in.

This quasi-natural idyll gives way to speech on the short closing track, “I Want to Tell You Something.” Hval’s words descend upon the song like Sir David Attenborough’s narration in the sweeping opening scenes of a “Planet Earth” episode. “What am I doing here?” she whispers in a voice as soft and light as a moth’s wings. There’s that synthetic vibration from “Spells” again. Every question Hval raises throughout the album goes unanswered, but she offers assurances along the way and in the closing promise: “When I hold you, you will not be awake for long.”

Unclear messages and unspooled melodies break new ground for Hval, and she inhabits it with grace on The Long Sleep. It’s as penetrating a work as Blood Bitch and its predecessor, Apocalypse, girl, but more humble in concept and more suspicious of its own claims. The EP’s comforting antidote to confusion isn’t clarity; it’s ambiguity. More than any unifying theme, what ties the record together is just Hval herself—resting as she dreams up her next step.


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