The Best Albums of 2016, #7

band017. Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)

A year after the brilliant Apocalypse, girl, an album that held me spellbound like few other records in 2015, Norwegian artist Jenny Hval returned with a sixth album that turned out to be even darker and more confrontational than before, yet at the same time, displaying a pop sensibility that her past work has hinted at but never fully embraced. It’s all well and good when an artist experiments, trying to push the parameters of popular music as far out as they can possibly go, but to do so and retain that pop sensibility at the same time is a very difficult balance to achieve. The more Hval pushes her music and herself, the better that dynamic becomes, which is proven on Blood Bitch, a sensational little concept album that is equal parts performance art, ambient electronic, and genuine pop music. “For the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers,” Hval states, going on to celebrate womanhood in explicit, graphic, harrowing, and dryly humorous fashion. I can’t elaborate on how empowering or relatable or inspiring Hval’s themes are; I can only say that the way women have to deal with blood in their lives – compared to we men who get squeamish over razor cuts – is alien to men, and it’s a marvel to see it addressed here as unflinchingly as she does on this record. Along with producer Lasse Murhaug, Hval creates a sparse, cinematic sound that alternately evokes a horror film (“Female Vampire”) and a surreal, gothic form of pop music (“The Great Undressing”). Descibed by Hval as “a love song for a vampire stuck in erotic self-oscillation”, “Conceptual Romance” is the real breakthrough moment here, in which rich poetry, staggering beauty, and musical minimalism coalesce into a thing of rare, awe-inspiring beauty. Jenny Hval’s music is the kind of art whose power and breadth grows the more you immerse yourself in it. It never fails to thrill and illuminate.