Album Reviews

Jenny Hval – Innocence Is Kinky

(Rune Grammofon) UK release date: 13 May 2013


Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky“At night, I watch people fucking on my computer.” That’s how Innocence Is Kinky, the new album by Norwegian musician Jenny Hval, begins. You’re immediately sceptical, as you fear that the album will match the quality of the attention-seeking contemporary art project you saw last week. Then, as the choppy post-punk guitar riff comes in, you realise you’re actually in the middle of a hypersexual rock ‘n’ roll song. By the time Hval introduces her booming wail of a voice, you’re sold; you can’t resist it.

Innocence Is Kinky is an art rock masterpiece that’s reminiscent of Kate Bush and PJ Harvey’s best work (and not just because it was produced by longtime Harvey-collaborator John Parish). With her new album, Hval immediately cements herself alongside other art rock gods and goddesses for her ability to combine concrete, brash, human, physical themes with the otherworldly, the intellectual, and the mythological, making for one of the most arresting listens of the year.

While Innocence Is Kinky’s title track functions as the attention grabber, the album truly kicks off with the second track, perhaps the best song on the album: Mephisto In The Water, which recalls both Bush and Julia Holter. Here, Hval bends her voice into a shriek and sings about life ending in the sea over a creepy, travelling pop arrangement. Yet, as captivating and creative as tracks like Mephisto In The Water are, Hval is just as successful at traditional rock, as on the psychedelic I Called, where she hilariously sounds like Amber Coffman trying to do a Bush impersonation. Or on the bluesy and fast-paced I Got No Strings, the album’s most self-consciously Harvey-like rock song. As self-serious as Innocence Is Kinky seems at first, in reality the album is very tongue-in-cheek. Hval realises that the mixture of the lowbrow, such as the album’s opening lines, and the highbrow cosmopolitan, like the Middle Eastern poetry of Oslo Oedipus, is inherently funny and she owns it for the better.

Innocence Is Kinky is also refreshingly aware of its place within the real world because it takes liberty in referencing other artistic figures and forms of art in addition to mythological individuals like Mephisto, Oedipus, and Pinocchio. Yet, Hval’s conception of these individuals, real or mythological, is a deeply personal statement. On Renée Falconetti Of Orléans, whose namesake is the silent film star of The Passion of Joan of Arc, Hval sings, “The camera is a mirror, but mine, not yours,” as if to suggest that she finds herself through her exploration of these characters.

It’s entirely fitting that Hval ends Innocence Is Kinky with a song that shares the title with one of last year’s most transforming albums of which she’s likely a fan, Swans’ The Seer. On Hval’s The Seer, she shares lines like, “The voice is wordless tissue,” as if to express the opinion that her voice is more an instrument than a vehicle for expressing words. Yet, the true point of the song is to portray Hval’s heavenly ascension. What really matters to her is her connection between her mind and her body, and her body and her primordial desires triumph. “My body is the end,” she sings, and this line is not necessarily a reference to death, but rather a self-aware encapsulation of Hval’s direct attitude towards gender, sexuality, and humanity.

Overall, Innocence Is Kinky is the classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”; as threatening and weirdly creepy as the title and first lines of the album are, Hval invites you to a conversation about her body, but not in the postmodern oversharing kind of way. Instead, you are legitimately interested in what she has to say, and you begin thinking about yourself in the same way.


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More on Jenny Hval
London Gigs: 3-9 April 2017
Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl
Jenny Hval & Susanna – Meshes Of Voice
Jenny Hval – Innocence Is Kinky


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