Jenny Hval – Innocence Is Kinky Review

Jenny Hval Innocence Is Kinky

This is one for the record books.



Rune Grammofon, 2013

9.0 / 10

At this point, I don’t think Jenny Hval can open an album without dropping a head-snapping line. 2011’s Viscera opened with “I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris”, and her latest album, Innocence Is Kinky, starts off with “That night I watch people fucking on my computer”. It is shocking, yes, but it also serves as sufficient warning and an indication of what’s to come. She isn’t about to tone down her language for anyone. Hell, she couldn’t if she wanted to—among the themes she explores in her music is our natural reaction to obscenity.

So “Innocence Is Kinky”, the opening title track, begins with Hval watching porn. She envisions it as existential fantasy, as though she is a goddess and the living embodiment of beauty. She ends the track by chanting “in and out”, and you’d have to stick your head in the sand to not recognize the metaphor. Innocence Is Kinky proceeds as a deconstruction of the usual fantastical “quirky” singer-songwriter tropes, both with its writing and the compositions. Why do we process sounds and ideas in certain ways? How did “sexy” become a defined thing? How important is the relationship between art and its creator? If someone makes a song consisting of distorting music between stereo channels, will you check your stereo every time you come across this song, or will you eventually accept that some things are just broken?

I suppose that Viscera could have been described in much the same way, but what makes this a superior effort, put simply, is that the tax the audience pays is much lower. Whether this is due to Hval being on top of her game or the involvement of producer John Parish, who has a great track record with unusual artists, is not readily apparent, but nothing feels wasted here. Songs are kept brief and to the point, even when Hval goes nuts with her vocals and imagery. This could have been a disaster in the hands of less capable people, and that it gloriously succeeds makes it one for the record books.

That said, there is a tax that the audience has to pay. This is not party music. This is not workout music. This isn’t music you can probably listen to on the highway. This music demands your attention and possibly an eye on the lyric sheet (which, thankfully, comes with the occasional note that clarifies some of the more obtuse references). Hval and Parish work their hardest to make the most accessible music they can without sacrificing power or weight, but this is still an album that begins with “That night I watch people fucking on my computer”. This really isn’t for everyone, and I would have to be crazy to try to force it on everyone. It demands at least a listen, though. If you’re not into music that makes you think about music, take a pass. If you’re the brainy sort, this is a gold mine. Dig in.

Purchase: Jenny Hval – Innocence Is Kinky

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