Albums of 2015 (#6): Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl
One of 2015's most striking social commentaries came from Jenny Hval singing into her hairbrush as a youngster
The achievement of Jenny Hval's fifth album Apocalypse, girl didn't come just in its startling sonic immersion – panoramic drones that come from gentle prods and pushes, electronic pulses that barely feel there and yet everywhere, Hval's singularly angelic vocal. It also showed in the ability of the Norwegian artist to arrange the overwhelming complexities of the western world in 2015 into something intelligent without being impenetrable, dark without being overbearing and eschewing an academic slant on issues relating to religion, femininity and media propaganda for something that attempts to connect through a more directly emotional channel.
"I was in this kind of head space where I didn’t want to be feeling like I was an artist," Hval told us in the summer, alluding to a level of snobbishness she felt existed in an increasingly standardised artist's environment; so it was that her Sacred Bones debut came from an attempt to escape those constraints, as she opted to draw influence from moments of the most shallow surface-level performance she could find: karaoke YouTube videos, the memory of miming to songs in her bedroom as a youngster.
"It was really liberating," she admitted at the time, and those touchstones have since manifested themselves on stage: a summer tour saw Hval break up her set to perform karaoke to Toni Braxton's Unbreak My Heart, while autumn found her miming through opening numbers, taking her back to those "miming competitions we'd have as small children in Norway".
This vantage point allowed Hval to approach Apocalypse, girl with a fresh approach, and tracks like That Battle Is Over, which questions capitalism and her own focus on mortality, and Sabbath's examination of gender roles, are counterbalanced with an instantaneousness far from expected, given a supporting cast that included, among others, noise scene veteran Lasse Marhaug and Swans' Thor Harris.