Jenny Hval coined the phrase “soft dick rock” on her 2015 album Apocalypse, girl. The lyric, emblazoned on her tour t-shirts, refers to the antithesis of the ultra-masculine sexuality of classic rockers like Zeppelin and the Who. Hval’s music is brutally feminine, evoking female sexuality in all of its honest beauty, emphasizing aspects that make society most uncomfortable. A principle motif of her new album, Blood Bitch, is menstruation.
About halfway though Blood Bitch, a curious voice asks, “What’s this album about Jenny?” “It’s about vampires,” the Norwegian singer responds. Well, yes. There is vampiric imagery on Blood Bitch. But the blood in question isn’t gore (see cock rock) but blood as part of nature, blood that gives life. “There must be some kind of art form/where I can call my blood/there are multitudes/don’t be afraid/it’s only blood,” Hval cooly recites on “Period Piece.” It is a mantra for the album. Hval will make public art about the private body and by doing so banish shame.
Blood Bitch alternates between lush, pulsating pop and the downright freaky. The song “Conceptual Romance” opens with waves of slow throbbing synths and splatters of electronic static. Hval’s vocals shift between gentle croons and reverberating proclamations. Flutes flicker in the background. The sweet poppiness is just a touch off key, a little bit sinister, much in the vain of PJ Harvey’s White Chalk. “Female Vampire” repeats a rapid synthesized rhythm that reminds me of the music leading into a breaking news segment. These songs are undeniably dark, but still catchy. They could exist outside the concept album.
Then there is “The Plague.” Starting with a disconcertingly long sample of bongo drums, it shifts jarringly to what sounds like screeching electronic church bells accompanied by discordant cries of “I’ve never truly really loved.” Then comes organ music that would likely creep out the Phantom of the Opera. Then some truly terrifying whispering — Satan perhaps? — samples of Japanese TV, heavy breathing and the drip, drip, drip of liquid. Finally we get shouts of pure agony played over the sound of flames and an 8-bit riff. This is my favorite song on the album. It makes cameo appearances in my nightmares.
The best moments on Blood Bitch are small. The sound of a pencil scribbling on “Untamed Region.” The frantic but unfluctuating breaths on “In the Red.” The malicious, nearly inaudible whispers hidden under the Kraftwerkiness of “The Great Undressing.” Hval creates many such faint shudders, adding up to a mood of lush, dark empowerment.
Listen to Blood Bitch below.