On a recent Nuts and Bolts podcast on the Quietus, Jenny Hval recalled being “heartbroken” at her early live reviews when she’d be described as a singer-songwriter, with all the reductive worthiness the term evokes. Even though she played guitar, she was “all about the effects”, especially delays on her vocals, a hypnotic constant she’s carried over six albums as her work has veered towards conceptual electronic works.
The Norwegian artist is no slight singer-songwriter. Her new EP The Long Sleep follows 2016’s Blood Bitch – a majestic art-pop concept album with themes of vampirism, menstrual taboo and 70s giallo horror, with the reassurance, “Don’t be afraid, it’s only blood”, on stand-out track ‘Period Piece’.
There’s nothing as explicitly conceptual on The Long Sleep, with Hval adding a shimmering spoken word note at the end of the EP, saying she wanted to communicate “directly without lyrics and melody”, adding: “It’s not in the product. It’s not in the algorithms… it’s not something they decided for you.” Hval has worked with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra before, and for The Long Sleep she once again teams up with a cast of jazz musicians, as well as regular collaborator Håvard Volden and producer Lasse Marhaug.
Her abstract notion seems to unfold halfway through opener ‘Spells’, as she starts engaging in a form of scat singing, amid wispy solos and a dreamy chorus with the line, “You will not be awake for long/We’ll meet in the smallest great unknown”. It’s her most ‘conventional’ song in years, sounding like a jazzy companion piece to The Sundays’ ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends’.
Second track ‘The Dreamer Is Everyone In Her Dream’ feels like a reprise, with the chorus lines of ‘Spells’ repeated over reverbed solo piano, before incantations of “This is the long sleep” over a church organ and panning clap effects. This disorientation bleeds into the title track, an 11-minute abstract drone, punctuated by the odd sax skronk, woodblock tics and the guiding voice of Hval as an unnerving meditation teacher.
Hval decides to add her manifesto at the end of the EP, in the brief spoken word ‘I Want To Tell You Something’. And even if she wonders, “What am I doing here? Am I communicating? Am I promoting?”, she signs off: “I want to tell you something. I just want to say: Thank you. I love you.” With the deathly undertones dredged up by a term like The Long Sleep, it’s a beautifully reassuring sign off.