6. Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones)
For an artist as daring and non-traditional as Jenny Hval, to see her tackling a theme as banal as love is enough to make one do a double-take. She even addressed the seeming incongruity in a press release. “Love as a theme in art has been the domain of the canonized, big artists, and I have always seen myself as a minor character, a voice that speaks of other things,” she wrote earlier this year. “But in the last few years I have wanted to take a closer look at the practice of otherness, this fragile performance, and how it can express love, intimacy, empathy and desire. I have wanted to ask bigger, wider, kind of idiotic questions like: What is our job as a member of the human race? Do we have to accept this job, and if we don’t, does the pressure to be normal ever stop?”
Trust Jenny Hval to find even deeper questions related to love, but that’s why she has become one of the most fascinating music artists of this past decade. No matter the subject, she approaches it from a direction most of us wouldn’t think of, and on The Practice of Love she backs up her thought-provoking lyrics with music so catchy that it seems to subvert pop and dance music. Comprised of only eight tracks over 33 minutes, every song on the album stands out as a unique piece of work, from the gorgeous “Ashes to Ashes” to the experimental spoken word piece that makes up the title track. “Six Red Cannas” ingeniously muses about women geniuses atop swirling synths and a throbbing dance beat, Hval invoking Joni Mitchell as she envisions Georgia O’Keefe paintings in the sky. “Accident” is especially noteworthy, as Hval vividly describes childless women imagining what pregnancy is like, ultimately reaching an epiphany that a childless life is a rewarding one: “She was told she was the closest her mother came to magic / She is made for other things / Born for cubist yearnings / Born to write. Born to burn.” In a year utterly dominated by powerful, immensely creative women in music, Hval put out arguably the most convincing and potent endorsement. Which just happens to be her finest work to date as well.