The Long Sleep by Jenny HvalRelease date: May 25, 2018
Label: Sacred Bones
In the most recent series of Twin Peaks, amongst various inexplicable goings on, a dream sequence occurred in which Monica Bellucci (as herself) asked “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream, but who is the dreamer?”. With The Long Sleep it feels as if Jenny Hval is attempting to answer this question. In fact, the title of the second track – ‘The Dreamer is Everyone in Her Dream’ – can easily be perceived as a direct response to Bellucci’s proposition. Whilst the effervescent world that Hval has cultivated is both sensuous and uncanny, it feels less threatening than one of Lynch’s nightmares. In fact, to put this record in cinematic terms, it is more like the gentle undulations of Herzog’s Heart of Glass, or Wenders’ Wings of Desire, or Tarkovsky’s Mirror, or like the work of Hélène Cattet, or Antonioni, or Resnais, or Scott Barley. This is trance-like but non-threatening. Soothing rather than strident.
We enter into Hval’s haze through a concealed door of gossamer pop. She plies us with gulps of honey and mollifies us into Somnus’ cradling arms. Encourages us to trust in her orchestration and wherever it leads. And she proves to be a fascinating and genial guide, ushering us into worlds of depth, understanding, and joy. A flurry of ivory, sidling trumpet, and strutting saxophone introduce ‘Spells’, the first track on her first solo release since 2016’s Blood Bitch. Initially we find Jenny in a buoyant, playful, and pop-embracing mood. Familiar chords welcome us into this breezy and effortless cavort of a song. The light dance of this is a pirouette in the early gold of spring. With lyrics delivered through such a pearly grin it would be easy to overlook the juxtaposition at play here. The phrases “Jazz hands”, “disco balls”, and “tapping into nothing” are all brought to our attention but Hval insists that she is not treating these as mere futile gestures. Perhaps, instead, she is envious of the abandon found in dance and how it offers an escape during this brief period of awareness we refer to as life.
The title track enlists wood-tapped rhythms that gain in confidence as disembodied voices slide past with the comfortable distance of a shaman calmly talking someone through their first peyote trip. This is experimental music without any risk of being jarred. On Blood Bitch and Apocalypse, Girl Jenny Hval seemed to carefully construct each track with painstaking attention to detail. Carving cuts like ‘Sabbath’ and ‘The Great Undressing’ with dexterity, purpose, and plenty of poise. The Long Sleep, conversely, feels like it has been hatched in the moment, summoned in the twinkling of an eye, and that is in no way a slight. There is something immediate, reactive and alive about these four tracks. They are almost dreamlike in their framework (or lack thereof). Eschewing conventional structures, we have tones, melodies, and vocal refrains seeping from one song to another. Creating a woozy and disorienting drift. Again, in a good way. It’s like being in the pleasing half night of a Tramadol nod. All around is the reassuringly warm comfort of a musical embrace. Gentle drones and oscillations swaddle duvet-like around weary heads. The urge to lean back and sink into this is not just enticing but practically mandatory.
But, towards the end, there is a brief flash of doubt as the tour draws near to a gift shop. Fearing spurious tchotchke gazes are averted and we find ourselves praying that the shelves are stacked with works of worth (Jenny Hval does have a novel due for publication in November this year after all) and not trinkets of commodification. Hoping for sincerity when she thanks us and offers us affection. Can honesty no longer be met without a shield of cynicism anymore? Everything leading up to this point had felt truthful. Like bones slowly being bared as artifices are stripped away. So why is it difficult to hear an apparently heartfelt monologue ending in gratitude and tenderness? Perhaps the wry grin that spoke of rocked bananas and capitalist cupcakes at the top of Apocalypse, Girl has created a shroud of irony and satire that can’t help but leave us a little mistrustful. So when the horns swell towards a climax, linking it all back to the notes that began this EP, we find ourselves in a wager not dissimilar to that of Pascal.
But sometimes the belief is worth the fall.