“What’s this album about, Jenny?” asks a voice about halfway through this, the Norwegian singer Jenny Hval‘s fourth solo record (sixth if you include the two she released under the moniker Rockettothesky). Well, where do you start, should really be the answer. Hval has always dealt with unconventional topics, and Blood Bitch is no exception. In essence, it’s a concept album about a female vampire, but there’s lots of talk of menstrual blood, feminism and noted documentary film-maker Adam Curtis even pops up in a cameo.
That may be enough to have many people running off to find comfort in something a bit less challenging, but for those willing to take the plunge, they’ll find that Blood Bitch is one of Hval’s more accessible albums. Although you aren’t likely to find any of the songs contained here blasting out of your local clothes shop, there’s a lovely, floaty feel to the likes of Conceptual Romance that you could easily imagine the likes of Bat For Lashes pulling off.
There’s still an awful lot to tackle though – much of Blood Bitch is concerned with demystifying periods (“don’t be afraid, it’s only blood” runs one line in the aptly titled Period Piece, while Untamed Religion tells the tale of how “the next morning I wake up and there is blood on the bed”. The aforementioned Conceptual Romance is pretty much a love letter to Chris Kraus’ seminal feminist novel I Love Dick, and The Great Undressing looks at creativity itself with the line “I need to keep writing because everything else is death”. It’s the sort of album that’s almost as rewarding to read than it is to listen to.
The music is all over the place too, in the best possible way. Female Vampire is an electro-ballad that almost pulses and throbs, staying in line with the theme of blood flowing – that’s immediately followed by In The Red, literally two minutes of female heavy breathing and panting, as if being chased by the vampire in the previous song. At the other end of the scale is The Plague, almost terrifying in its intensity, a stitched up collage of sounds featuring drums, discordant noise, feral screaming and the sound of Hval muttering “I’ve never really loved”, before drifting off into a stream of consciousness babble. Maybe not the sort of thing to listen to for a quick pick-me-up, but it holds a strangely nightmarish allure.
Maybe Adam Curtis sums it all up best when his sampled voice in Untamed Region explains that “it sums up the strange mood of our time…when nothing makes any kind of coherent sense”. Hval’s album is a beautifully chaotic beast, the sort that’s not that easy to put a handle on. Even the more seemingly calm tracks like Lorna or Conceptual Romance have a strange kind of tension running through them, meaning that you’re never quite at ease when listening to it. At times, this is probably easier to admire than to actually sit down and enjoy, but it’s an impressive achievement nonetheless.