The Norwegian artist's most melodious work is a direct look into what it means to be "just me".
The concept of self-love was gaining traction way before 2020, but for many the last few years clearly became fertile ground to explore and re-evaluate their desires and sense of identity, that in the previous rush of society had perhaps only afforded brief moments of reflection.
But what exactly loving yourself means beyond a candlelit bath is up for debate, and something that’s long occupied the work of Norwegian artist Jenny Hval, as on 2015’s Apocalypse, Girl, where she asks “What is it to take care of yourself?”: “Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”
Five years later, when dealing with the prospect of being unable to practice her art, at least not publicly, Hval found herself stripped from her normal meaning markers, a bare and private person. “This made me feel very plain,” she says in a press release. “Feeling plain made me want to write something really straight-forward. Stories about life, maybe even my own life. I wanted to investigate ‘just me’, undress the concept and the idea of myself down to the innermost cells.”
It’s no coincidence, then, that her eighth album Classic Objects feels less dissociative than her 2019 out-of-body experience The Practice of Love, though the synths remain ever expansive and spacey. Fittingly, there’s a distinct mindful quality to the album, not least from the Balearic ambience of ‘American Coffee’ or the yogic percussion on the title track. But far from nearing musak for meditation, Hval arrests and awakens with what must be the brightest and tenderest of melodies of her career. When they fade as her New Age electronica comes to the fore, we’re met with a kind of bracing immersion, as on the last half of ‘Jupiter’ that feels more IMAX than cinematic.
But as anyone who’s tried to find their zen from yoga or meditation will know, sometimes our thoughts are inescapable. Hval has many of them. Though lyrically there’s still a web of clouds, ethers, dreams, utopias and other seemingly shapeless forms, for the most part the artist sings with particularly directness. On the opening ‘Year of Love’ she opens up with comedic bluntness of the practicalities of marriage (“It’s just for contractual reasons, I explained/ Signing the papers”), whilst on both ‘Freedom’ and the closing ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Owned’ she pines for art removed from commercialism: ‘And this song is regulated by copyright regulations/ And dreaming doesn’t have copyright/ ‘I guess you could say ‘The revolution will not be owned’”.
There’s a paradox in that consuming the record for enjoyment maybe belies the depth that Hval clearly assigns to her art. But regardless, taking in all eight songs of Classic Objects feels itself an act of self-love.
Classic Objects is out now via 4AD. Find tickets to gigs and tours here.