[ALBUM REVIEW] JENNY HVAL – BLOOD BITCH
Blood Bitch may deal with weighty topics, but it is not a political or feminist essay, and shouldn’t be treated as one. Although Hval doesn’t always help herself. The songs themselves are littered with daunting references; interviewers similarly are led down academic rabbit holes. The music is rich with ideas, just don’t go searching for concrete meaning.
In an excellent cover feature for last month’s Wire magazine, Maya Kalev delves into the albums dual themes of the female vampire and menstruation. Cynical of the press’ attitude towards artists with an expressed point of view – or even inquisitive attitude – Hval noted how “The tabloid world is all about silencing and fear. That is one of it’s main values – get this bitch to shut up.” Given the press climate, and insidious online backlash against feminism, Blood Bitch arrives at a crucial moment. For all the socially progressive strides, we remain in a state of constant risk. As our voices of protest rise, the reactionary become all the more militant.
I’m already starting to fall into the trap of dissection, understanding only through cultural context. Hval has said that, while making the album she was attempting to put across “something the thinkpiece could not…something that has disappeared from reality.” These ideas of lucidity and the indefinable can be found on the albums lead single Female Vampire. Dreamy is often seen to go hand in hand with languid, however the propulsive, almost krautrock beat gives a sense of real urgency and pace.
The album’s centrepiece, and most obviously pop moment, is the track Conceptual Romance. Described as a “love letter to Chris Kraus”, the song incorporates some of the themes and phrases which can be found within her acclaimed novel I Love Dick. The Great Undressing similarly manages to work the word “capitalism” into a pop hook, making high brow and low brow inseparable from each other, a levelling out of culture, everything on equal playing fields.
The way she continuously draws upon the 70’s giallo film genre contrasts the Chris Kraus, Adam Curtis and conceptual references. These Movies were widely seen as trashy and exploitative within their time. Whilst undertaking an obsessive binge watching of these films, she realised that there were things which could be learnt from these seemingly sleazy sources. Obviously the main attraction, of both vampires and horror films, is the blood connection to the theme of menstruation. Alarmed at the ongoing perception of menstruation, Hval depicts a possible future in which it could be seen as empowering, rather than something to be ashamed of.
Again I’m mostly talking about context. As much of a cop out for a reviewer as it sounds, the album’s emphasis is on experience, asking questions more than providing answers. The fragments of phrases, rabid dog style panting, screeches and yelps; they all add up to something more impressionist than thoroughly thought out.
The trailer for the album pondered the question “Do Vampires Menstruate?” Not something you’d traditionally ask in a promotional campaign, but something which definitely encapsulates why she is so unparalleled within her field. Pioneering her own self styled genre on Apocalypse Girl – “soft dick rock” – her music continues to violently overturn expectations. She is both confident within her gender, whilst avoiding being confined to depictions imposed by a male gaze. Women within the industry are commonly stuck with the dilemma of either rejecting feminine identity, or conforming to a male idea of what that is. Hval, however, continues in finding powerful new ways of bypassing this issue.
Words by Eden Tizard