Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Jenny Hval’s seventh album The Practice of Love is the Norwegian writer-musician’s most accessible work yet, but it doesn’t sacrifice the cerebral complexity she brings to all her projects. In contrast to Blood Bitch, a murky collage about female vampires, The Practice of Love uses wispy electronics and layered vocals to explore the difficulties of intimacy. In addition to Hval’s own voice, Vivian Wang, Laura Jean Englert, and Felicia Atkinson contribute vocals, adding sonic complexity, conversations, and even some pseudo-ASMR moments.
While The Practice of Love can be pleasant background music if one so chooses, close listening reveals the careful design of the vocal arrangements and the complexity of Hval’s lyrics. Instead of liner notes for this release, Hval wrote poetry; her literary tendencies manifest further on songs like “Accident,” an exercise in eloquent, concise character study (“She is made for other things / Born for cubist yearnings.”)
Hval is obsessed with otherness, a theme that she touches on many times across her discography; here, the estrangement is from ideas of love and closeness, as on “Lions,” or the title track’s anti-love treatise. Always questioning what it means to belong (or not), Hval cleverly achieves a kind of intimacy—and claustrophobia—by having the vocalists simultaneously sing different lyrics on these tracks.
The Practice of Love works when viewed from afar or up close, casually or obsessively. It’s difficult to make a very pretty album devoted to being unsettled by all forms of love, but Hval, a consummate artist, rises to the occasion once again.