“What is soft dick rock?” Jenny Hval asks in her song “Kingsize.” She goes on to define it — her spoken voice stilted in lo-fi eeriness — as “using the elements of dick to create a softer, toned-down sound.” She stole that phrasing from the “soft rock” definition on Wikipedia but replaced the word “rock” with “dick.”
If that’s any indication, Hval’s ways are truly her own, and they reflect her very own style of radical feminism. The Nordic artist, now in her mid-thirties, is six solo albums into her art. Her most recent is Blood Bitch, a haunting project she says is about vampires. She references menstruation throughout, with an eerie, often times anxiety-inducing delivery of teetering synths, spoken word, and a minute-long track of panicked breathing. She’s co-produced albums with noise artist Lasse Marhaug, creating the visceral electronic pulse of Blood Bitch and Apocalypse, girl. The slower Innocence is Kinky rivals the racing beats of recent work, but puts her voice at the forefront of the project that most fits the “rock” label.
Hval’s feminist critique of capitalism stands strong throughout her projects. The lyrics “you say I’m free now, that the battle is over, and feminism is over and socialism’s over,” comes off the 2015 album Apocalypse, girl. It’s a direct response to the belief that activists have fought and completed their battle, that things are better now. The artist draws on her experiences in Norway and people she met touring in the States for story inspiration.
Her exclamations are provocative, unapologetic, and so brazen it’s hard not laugh in either disbelief, admiration, or both. In the same song, she will tease, “Last night I took my birth control with rosé,” but will then explore what it means to take care of yourself in a patriarchal society. Hval’s radical sense is fresh and her battle is far from over.»
– Gina Pieracci
*Jenny Hval comes to Portland on Nov. 14 at Holocene. Tickets here.