In Jenny Hval’s most recent album, Blood Bitch, she experiments with menstrala art through the medium of music. In a society which still shames menstruation, it’s uplifting to see another gifted avant-garde artist join a movement of destigmatization through visibility and celebration. Much of this exploration intersects with another theme of the album, vampires. With comedic levity, a voiceover calls this theme “so basic” in “The Great Undressing”; luckily the way she uses it is in no way basic, or at least for the past decade.
The atmosphere of multiple tracks takes you right back to the tradition of 1970’s vampire movies. During the openings of “Female Vampire” and “Untamed Region” I almost expected Nosferatu to glide through a doorway. In a pop culture filled with Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood where romantic relationships are at the center, it’s nice to see a take on this theme which proclaims self-sufficiency, personal pride, and identity with a feminist fervor.
When Jenny Hval does discuss relationships, as in “Conceptual Romance” and “The Great Undressing”, she highlights the way capitalism has recreated and morphed the modern social construct of the romantic relationship. The sex positivity and feminist aspects of this album are enough to support it to me; however, she doesn’t prioritize the message over the album’s sophisticated musicality and aesthetic quality.
One of its strongest elements is its construction of atmosphere and soundscapes. The bass of “Ritual Awakening” creates a dark and haunting world which many other tracks continue with their heavy synth lines, bass and distorted vocals. “The Plague” through multiple different melodic and genre switches weaves together a story that often jars and unsettles the listener while still remaining aesthetically fascinating and powerful. Yet the interjections of levity and humor keep the journey from becoming stale or morose.
Lyrically, one of its greatest strengths is the preference for quality over quantity. Often the limited amount of words, makes the lyrics that are present particularly powerful as in “Ritual Awakening” and “In the Red”. This forces the listener to think closely consider the multiple levels of the lyrics, always fruitful process where a writer like Jenny Hval is concerned. There is also a notable variety in the kinds of speech throughout the album, including conversations between friends, voice overs from speeches, spoken word and obviously sung lyrics. Vocally, Jenny Hval bravely commits to her lyrics and communicates a sense of longing, vulnerability and sincerity in her soprano.
Given the clearly thought-out construction of Blood Bitch as a whole, some of the tracks cannot survive separated from their context. Even the songs with the potential to be singles with heavy replay value are still better within their proper place given the way the themes interrelate and develop. Blood Bitch is best approached as a piece of art demanding your focused attention, contemplation and reflection.