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Jenny HvalSacred Bones
The Practice of Love
Released: 13th September 2019
At first listen, The Practice of Love, Jenny Hval’s seventh full-length album, unspools with an almost deceptive ease. Across eight tracks, filled with arpeggiated synth washes and the kind of lilting beats that might have drifted, loose and unmoored, from some forgotten mid-’90s trance single, The Practice of Love feels, first and foremost, compellingly humane. Given the horror and viscera of her previous album, 2016’s Blood Bitch, The Practice of Love is almost subversive in its gentleness—a deep dive into what it means to grow older, to question one’s relationship to the earth and one’s self, and to hold a magnifying glass over the notion of what intimacy can mean. As Hval describes it, the album charts its own particular geography, a landscape in which multiple voices engage and disperse, and the question of connectedness—or lack thereof—hangs suspended in the architecture of every song. It is an album about “seeing things from above—almost like looking straight down into the ground, all of these vibrant forest landscapes, the type of nature where you might find a porn magazine at a certain place in the woods and everyone would know where it was, but even that would just become rotting paper, eventually melting into the ground.”
Prompted by an urge to find a different kind of language to express what she was feeling, the songs on Love unfurl like an interior dialogue involving several voices. Friends and collaborators Vivian Wang, Laura Jean Englert, and Felicia Atkinson surface on various tracks, via contributed vocals or through bits of recorded conversation, which further posits the record itself as a kind of ongoing discourse. “The last thing I wrote, which was my new book (forthcoming), had quite an angry voice,” says Hval, “The voice of an angry teenager, furious at the hierarchies. Perhaps this album rediscovers that same voice 20 years later. Not so angry anymore, but still feeling apart from the mainstream, trying to find their place and their community. With that voice, I wanted to push my writing practice further, writing something that was multilayered, a community of voices, stories about both myself and others simultaneously, or about someone’s place in the world and within art history at the same time. I wanted to develop this new multi-tracked writing voice and take it to a positive, beautiful pop song place... A place which also sounds like a huge pile of earth that I’m about to bury my coffin in.”
Opening track “Lions” sets the tone for the record, both thematically and aesthetically, offering both a directive and a question: “Look at these trees / Look at this grass / Look at those clouds / Look at them now / Study this and ask yourself: Where is God?” The idea of placing ourselves in context to the earth and to others bubbles up throughout the record. On “Accident” two friends video chat on the topic of childlessness, considering their own ambivalence about motherhood and the curiosity of having been born at all. “She is an accident,” Hval sings, “She is made for other things / Born for cubist yearnings / Born to Write. Born to Burn / She is an accident / Flesh in dissent.” What does it mean to be in the world? What does it mean to participate in the culture of what it means to be human? To parent (or not)? To live and die? To practice love and care? What must we do to feel validated as living beings? Such questions are baked into the DNA of Love, wrapped up in layers of gauzy synthesizers and syncopated beats. Even when circling issues of mortality, there is a kind of humane delight at play. “Put two fingers in the earth,” Hval intones on “Ashes to Ashes”— “I am digging my own grave / in the honeypot / ashes to ashes / dust to dust.”