The Best Albums of 2015, #10

band0110. Jenny Hval, Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones)

In 2015 there was a lot of talk about the continued marginalization of women in the music industry, and justifiably so. The accounts by the brave women who spoke out  were harrowing, not to mention extremely embarrassing in this day and age. So it feels a little ironic to mention how from the start of the year, 2015 has felt like, to me anyway, the Year of the Woman in Music. Album after album of staggering quality, made by women, followed one after another this year. I was in awe of what was happening, and that artistic success by women is reflected in this year-end list, and especially in the top ten. Eight of my ten favourite albums of 2015 were either made by women or are by bands that prominently feature women. By far the most peculiar of this year’s top ten, which is one of the best top tens I have ever assembled in 30 years of EOY list-making, is Apocalypse, girl by Norwegian artist Jenny Hval. I always say how I want the art I consume to challenge, to take risks, to make me rethink conventionality, and this absolutely stunning, 38-minute piece of art pop does just that. Part spoken word, part tone poem, unsettlingly dissonant and sublimely melodic at the same time, Hval forces you to consider the role of the woman not only as an artist in contemporary music, but in society overall. She is empowering (“Think big, girl, like a king, think kingsize”) surreally funny (“I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit”) and confrontational (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over & socialism’s over. Yeah, I say I can consume what I want now”). Produced by avant-garde luminary Lasse Marhaug, and featuring Thor Harris of Swans and Øystein Moen of Jaga Jazzist, The musical arrangements are minimal but lavish, built around Hval’s strange but oddly compelling vocal melodies. She wrote her master’s thesis about Kate Bush, and can you ever hear it all over this album, in the way she portrays different characters and tells stories. She is explicit, but never for the sake of shocking, and indeed her storytelling skill is extraordinary throughout this record. “Some days I feel like my body is straightened, held up by thin braces, metal spikes embrace my spine, my face, my cunt,” she sings on “Sabbath”. “I can feel myself from above, but I can’t see who’s holding them. It would be easy to think about submission, but I don’t think it’s about submission, it’s about holding and being held.” There’s sensitivity underneath all the pretension, and the more you delve into this extraordinary album, the more rewarding it becomes. (Spotify) (YouTube)