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Jenny Hval
Viscera Sophie Monks Kaufman , May 26th, 2011 09:56

All words are powerful but some are more powerful than others. 'Viscera' is the turbulent child of 'sex' and 'mortality' and conjures up the hidden world inside that at once fascinates and repels. It can be applied to the disgusting physical experiences of Charles Bukowski with his huge boils that burst in pools of blood and to the gushing sex scenes found on the pages of Anaϊs Nin and her beau Henry Miller. But what of Jenny Hval's Viscera?

The Norwegian artist and writer's first album under her own name (she has released two others under the moniker Rockettothesky) kicks off with the expectation-subverting 'Engines In The City'. Single guitar notes, the remote echo of drums and twinkly cymbals hypnotise for over a minute before Jenny wakes everyone up with the extraordinary lyric: "I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris." This groundbreaking way of arriving in town deserves consideration but Jenny pushes on: "After a few weeks it ran out of batteries worming sadly between my legs." Before you can reflect on electric toothbrushes loved and lost our heroine growls: "I am the engine now. I learnt how to make that humming sound."

So far, so intriguing-approach-to-female-sexuality. If only the album could have continued as a trinity of Hval's powerful voice, unconventional lyrics and balanced instrumentation. The folk singer is vocally talented but from this point she relies too heavily on that, running her voice through its paces which causes the lyrics, which laid a path through the first track, to become camouflaged by gargled vowels and sudden octave leaps.

'Blood in Flight' is the second track both in chronology and interest. A stern drum beat, minor vocals and staccato syllables evoke not only 'The End' but the lawless scenes The Doors soundtracked in Apocalypse Now. We can imagine a barefoot Hval staggering through lush jungle lands taking flight from Colonel Kurtz and his horror. However, it's not all severed heads and tropical madness. Hval exercises impressive control over the wild beast that is her voice suggesting that the world of dank Brando-occupied caves in not for her.

Another way in which Hval takes inspiration from 'The End' is length. A key difference is The Doors' album The Doors is full of snappy two and three minute songs with the epic saved literally till the end. In Viscera, six, seven and eight minutes sprawlers are the norm. This is ill-advised. There is no denying that the girl got range - Hval can do sweet and controlled, can have a grown-up edge and can go into full-throttled screeching a lá Joni Mitchell - but without any real structure in vocal or musical terms each song drags - like an illness you can't shake or sex with the wrong person.