“What’s this album about, Jenny?” a woman asks during a track called “The Great Undressing” on Norwegian singer Jenny Hval’s latest release Blood Bitch. “It’s about vampires,” Jenny responds. And based purely on the album’s title and creepy cover image of a long-haired androgyne lingering spookily around Miss Hval’s neck with parted lips, you may have guessed the same thing. But while there are definitely a few intentionally frightening audio moments on this record, the lovingly-sung/spoke, deeply confessional lyrics and dream-like, avant-garde sounds that have become synonymous with Hval’s solo work are also present on this, her sixth studio album.
Brooding strings and a sprinkling of static, panning from left to right, open Blood Bitch on a brief piece titled “Ritual Awakening”. The tease of an intro gives nothing away, nor do the two tolerable tracks that follow, the first of which literally has Hval repeatedly promising during the chorus, “Here it comes.” What comes, however, is the odd exercise “In the Red”, which is nearly two and a half minutes of hyperventilated breathing similar to the somewhat irritating respiration heard at the end of Jenny’s otherwise wonderful 2015 album Apocalypse, girl. It isn’t until just before Blood Bitch’s halfway point is reached with the song “Conceptual Romance” that the album begins to find its footing.
With its steady pulse and charming synths, working in conjunction with soul-baring lyrics like, “I don’t know who I am, but I’m working on it,” “Conceptual Romance” is Blood Bitch at its most accessible, managing to successfully combine a quirky-yet-catchy musical composition with sincere vocal introspection. “Period Piece”, another second side highlight, has Hval getting downright gynecological over a slow groove, singing, “In the doctor’s office, speculum pulls me open,” and ending with the lines, “Don’t be afraid, it’s only blood.”
Although Blood Bitch never quite fully recovers from its mostly ponderous first half, from here to the album’s end things are markedly improved. Blood Bitch’s second half is sequenced so that the even numbered tracks are more exploratory while the odd numbered songs are more mainstream. Notable is the equal parts horrifyingly jarring and ridiculously comical six-minute audio collage “The Plague” that may be considered Jenny’s “Revolution 9”, albeit more musical. The record is brought to a satisfying conclusion with the sprightly “Secret Touch” which transforms into Blood Bitch’s final moment, the spoken word piece “Lorna”.
Horror is tricky. Its subtleties are made even more precarious when attempted by an artist known for her at times uncomfortably personal, sexual and feminist themes. Although the scariest thing about Blood Bitch may be its packaging, credit must be given to Hval for even attempting to comingle her esoteric world with that of the macabre genre. Blood Bitch is a mixed bag, but if you’re an artist whose primary objective is to push boundaries, you can’t expect all of your experiments to be successful all of the time.