Jenny Hval's fourth solo album is her best in years.Sacred Bones, 2016
8.4 / 10
The funniest part of Blood Bitch comes halfway in. By that point, one has already become familiar with her themes and approach. Blood Bitch barely hides that large portions of it come inspired by Hval’s thoughts on her vagina, specifically the menstruation cycle, which she interprets as both a constant symbol of death as well as a reminder of the magic of life. Indeed, Hval’s perception of her biology has fueled most of her work, to the point that reading a selection of the track titles—“In the Red”, “Untamed Region”, “Period Piece”—don’t provoke wide-eyed shock (anymore, to me, a person who has listened to every album she’s put out since 2011) so much as “yep, sounds like a Jenny Hval album alright”. So, halfway through, a well-meaning friend asks, “What’s this album about, Jenny?”
The follow-up likely inspires heartier chuckles among most—Hval responds with “It’s about vampires”, to which her friend laughs it off as simplistic—but that question registers as setup and punchline to me. We’re already in the work, we know what it is about, we’re not straining brain cells to know where the untamed region is, and yet there’s still the question of what this is all “about”. Animal Farm was “about” animals, on a farm, among other things but those other things would take a while to describe. A discussion I saw last week on Facebook saw one dullard argue, and I quote, “You read the book to kill a mockingbird in school if that taught you anything it’s women will make up rape cases”. I know classmates whose thesis revolved around that book, but hey, what do the learned know?
So Blood Bitch, then, is as much Hval’s most frank exploration of herself as well as her most frank commentary on herself, with large passages feeling like comedy considering expectation. How else to interpret “In the Red”’s suggestive panting, or the improv’d rhyming in “The Plague” devolving into broad exclamations, or Hval herself reducing her best body of work since Innocence is Kinky down to “It’s about vampires”? This is as good a time as any to indulge with this sort of experiment, especially considering that Hval’s increasingly ambitious experiments with odd electronic composition have almost caught up to her lyrical grasp. It is a flawed project—the second half lacks the first’s punch to make for a propulsive, smooth listen—but I think those flaws are worth accepting in the face of the commentary on art, which is sort of what this album is about, except for the part where it’s about vampires.