Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Jenny Hval ‎– The Practice Of Love (2019)

Genre: Electronic, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label:  Sacred Bones Records

1.   Lions
2.   High Alice
3.   Accident
4.   The Practice Of Love
5.   Ashes To Ashes
6.   Thumbsucker
7.   Six Red Cannas
8.   Ordinary

Producer – Jenny Hval
Written-By, Performer, Arranged By, Recorded By – Jenny Hval

In a statement accompanying the announcement of her seventh record, The Practice of Love, Jenny Hval admitted some trepidation about the overarching subject. “Love as a theme in art has been the domain of the canonized, big artists,” she wrote. “I have always seen myself as a minor character, a voice that speaks of other things.” Since emerging as a solo artist over a decade ago, some of these “other things” have included vampires, menstruation, gender identity, and capitalism. With those fascinations in mind, the Norwegian avant-garde artist manages to take the exhausted topic of love and transform it into something that feels both erudite and primal, a work that encourages both contemplation and movement. 
Inspired in part by Valie Export’s 1985 drama of the same name, The Practice of Love looks beyond traditional definitions of love; Hval seldom mentions romance, even of the conceptual sort. Instead, across eight tracks, love is an amorphous entity. It’s finding rituals of intimacy beyond the norm. It’s celebrating otherness. It’s two friends questioning their choice to not have children over Skype. The practice of love, Hval seemingly says, is creation, survival, and community sustained and defined on one’s terms. 
Written and produced by Hval after she completed an upcoming novel about the coming-of-age of a lonely Norwegian teenage girl in the 1990s, the record moves away from the experimental art-pop of her earlier work and embraces the hypnotic spirit of ’90s trance music, a world Hval says she never experienced firsthand. This new alchemy of four-on-the-floor rhythms with heady theory makes Hval’s music more accessible and affecting than ever before.

The Practice of Love eases into its grand ambitions by opening with the origin of all life: Earth. “Lions” invites a subject to search for sanctity in the trees, the grass, the clouds. “Study this and ask yourself: Where is God?” a distant, measured voice implores over rhythmic bursts of white noise. Then, as the voice’s focus shrinks towards the ants, mushrooms, and flowers of the forest, the song’s structure expands. A shuffling synth nestles against the percussion and as Hval’s voice enters the scene, “Lions” accelerates until it bursts into dancefloor euphoria. 
The feeling continues on the stellar “Ashes to Ashes,” as it manifests the cerebral songwriting process as a physical act. Atop a dreamy, buoyant arrangement, Hval sings of beats burrowing into the ground and playing an instrument that is “just a shape in the earth,” of sinking her hands into the soil and tasting the detritus of memories. Despite this carnality, Hval’s voice is light, airy, and calming. “She was certain the lyrics went about burying someone’s ashes/And then having a cigarette.” Songwriting mimics a life cycle: As you exorcise the past, you move closer to your demise. 
“Ashes to Ashes” and the skittering, saxophone-tinged “High Alice” are the only songs on The Practice of Love that feature Hval on her own. As on previous records, a group of guest vocalists (here, artists Vivian Wang, Félicia Atkinson, and Laura Jean Englert) provide a collage of perspectives, their voices often blending into one organism. Hval, Wang, and Englert converge on the title track, which is composed of two overlapping dialogues, one of Wang reciting the narration of a film by Hval’s frequent co-producer Lasse Marhaug, the other a conversation between Englert and Hval about existence. “I have to accept that I’m part of this human ecosystem but I’m not the princess and I’m not the main character,” Englert remarks. Many artists explore ego death, but few have made it into such a personal and physical sensation, something that reverberates through the body long after the song cuts out. 
“Flesh in dissent” or the rejection of heteronormative obligation is further explored on “Accident,” a song flush with wonder. As Hval attempts to rectify the transition from being “the closest her mother came to magic” to being “no longer a mystery of life,” she envisions women simulating the various rituals of pregnancy. One woman discovers stretch mark cream in an Airbnb bathroom. When she spreads the product on her stomach, she feels no shame. “So many years. So little fruit,” she blasély murmurs later while picking at a container of dried figs. “Accident” reaches a powerful conclusion as the narrator rediscovers her magic through art: She’s “Born to write/Born to burn.” The way Hval reconciles with destiny makes you want to seek out your own. 
If “Accident” is Hval at her most corporeal, “Six Red Cannas” floats off into the metaphysical. Over a thumping beat that could soundtrack a grimy techno show, she chops up a fictional memory into a meditation that encompasses female genius, songwriting philosophy, and the passage of time. While driving through the New Mexican desert on a pilgrimage to Georgia O’Keefe’s home studio, Hval somewhat unwittingly connects herself to a lineage of innovators. “I think I was trying to write to Georgia O’Keeffe/Like Joni Mitchell writes to Amelia Earhart when she is driving in the desert,” she observes, letting her falsetto spiral atop a wobbling synth. “As if a song can communicate with the spirits or awaken the dead/I mean—isn’t that what it’s for?” Nodding to Mitchell’s own desert observations on Hejira’s “Amelia,” Hval looks upward and notices six of O’Keeffe’s signature fiery red flowers streaking across the sky. As the song dissolves, the thought arises: Who else could make a banger out of conjuring Georgia O’Keeffe? 
The Practice of Love concludes with its most understated track. “Ordinary” is a gauzy, spoken-word wisp about finding comfort in the familiar. “Can I only write these things, not all the other things?” a stoic voice asks. As bells, horns, and drums gradually creep in and build, the song subtly swells into an opulent trance track. But right as it reaches its peak, “Ordinary” begins to wash away until only its outlines remain. Its payoff is intimate, a fitting comedown after a record that pushes Hval towards her most emotionally vulnerable. She’s an outsider claiming a piece of the mainstream for herself without sacrificing what makes her music so special. 
Quinn Moreland / Pitchfork

Jaimie Branch ‎– Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs Of Paradise (2019)

Style: Avant-garde Jazz, Free Improvisation
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: International Anthem Recording Company

1.   Birds Of Paradise
2.   Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 & 2
3.   Lesterlude
4.   Twenty-three N Me, Jupiter Redux
5.   Whales
6.   Simple Silver Surfer
7.   Bird Dogs Of Paradise
8.   Nuevo Roquero Estéreo

Cello, Percussion – Lester St. Louis
Double Bass, Percussion, Vocals – Jason Ajemian
Drums, Xylophone, Mbira – Chad Taylor
Trumpet, Voice, Synth, Bells, Whistle – Jaimie Branch
Composed By – Chad Taylor, Jaimie Branch, Jason Ajemian, Lester St. Louis

At its peak, Jaimie Branch’s trumpet playing has the feeling of a prelingual shriek, a cry out into the distance that intuits no response. It’s a dark, deeply felt tone, which perfectly fits her second solo album, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise. 
Written in the midst of the Trump presidency and amid continuing police violence towards minorities, it is at turns furious and impassioned, dejected and chaotic – Branch’s bursts of searing trumpet the unifying narrative force. Where her first Fly or Die record, from 2017, was an upbeat mix of New Orleans shuffle and sprightly freeform rhythm, here things fall apart: the drums clattering towards a funeral dirge on album centrepiece Prayer for Amerikkka; synths undulating beneath cellist Lester St Louis’s percussive bowing on Twenty-Three N Me, Jupiter Redux; and Branch’s brass shrill and buffeting on Nuevo Roquero Estéreo. 
Branch supplements the wordless entreaties of her horn with her own vocals for the first time on this album. She narrates the desperate tale of a detained and abused Central American girl on Prayer for Amerikkka, and punkishly declares that “we got a bunch of wide-eyed racists” in power, while on Love Song she takes a softer, Tom Waits-esque tone, labelling it a “love song for assholes and clowns”.

Her vocals are unexpected but a welcome surprise, characteristic of the fluid improvisatory interplay of Branch’s work (the album was largely recorded live at London venues Total Refreshment Centre and Cafe Oto). It isn’t an optimistic record but nor is it apathetic – it is a communal action; an effort to express that to which words cannot always do justice. The mix of styles also reflects the communal writing ethos of her four-piece band, often composing on the fly in the studio. 
Ammar Kalia / The Guardian