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  • Writer's pictureRyan ANTIART

ALBUM REVIEW: Lost Girls, Menneskekollektivet

Grade: B-

During this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that as people continue to get sick and tours are indefinitely cancelled, bigger artists are all delaying their music until the market is safer. While on one hand, this has led to more dumbed down and throwaway music from people like Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato and no of input from titans like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar, the lack of content has led to a void that yearns to be filled. While last year was a feast of popular music left over from pre-pandemic hopes and dreams, 2021 has been a year where headphone music has become key; artists have become more experimental and less worried about marketability.

Jenny Hval has always been one of those artists that never gave a fuck about any of that, anyway. A song like “The Practice of Love” from her 2019 album of the same name feels more like abstract performance art than it does a song that brings people together at one of her shows. Her use of spoken word, sparse ambience and echoed, interchanging vocals are so different than nearly any other music I’ve ever heard. That’s all to say, I’ve never been a fan of her music. In retrospect, many of these albums that I had ignored for years like Blood Bitch would be deemed Anti Essentials in 2021, a year where albums are few and far between and standout work is unignorable. Well now Jenny has an album out in 2021, a collaborative effort between her and fellow experimentalist Håvard Volden released under the name “Lost Girls”.

Menneskekollektivet or “The Human Collective” is an album that seeks to understand the human experience. For many years, dance music has been used by auteurs like The Knife, DJ Koze or even LCD Soundsystem as a tool for freedom. The cyclical, building nature of a dance beat provides a simple but effective canvas for artists to paint philosophy on them. “XTC”, one of my favorite songs by DJ Koze, expounds on the idea that “truth is bitter in the beginning, but sweet in the end”. Here on Menneskekollektivet, Hval mostly uses spoken word to breakdown the metaphysics of sound and life. “There is darkness/Sound travels across it/Invisible bodies carry/Darkness leads us closer to what will in the future be called death/Which is now inseparable from what in the future will be called life/We exist and sound hugs our bodies” is a set of lyrics that caught me by surprise, Hval gets very self-reflective on this album. She talks a lot about her music, the medium (sound) with which it travels, and how it gets to the listener through headphones (projector of "invisible bodies").

There’s a lot to dive into on the title track outside of those lyrics I mentioned. She even goes into how Jehovah’s Witnesses use sound selfishly to try and prove their beliefs are more important than those who are answering the door. She says that singing is a selfless act because there is nothing preached, it’s all purely to make the other person feel something. Yes, the album is a little bit full of itself in that way, especially as Hval begins singing right after saying this. Maybe when Hval talks at us and tries to explain her philosophy, that is kind of selfish, but I guess that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The entire song, musically, is very minimal. Unflinching tribal drums, clubby hi-hats, liquid ambience and birds chirping give the track its rhythmic core. All this is to say, I really enjoy this track and what it has to say about life, death, entertainment and sound as a whole.

Structurally, I find this album to be really interesting. It consists of five songs in total, two behemoths and three shorter tracks. The title track is 12 minutes, and “Love, Lovers” is nearly 16 minutes. Truthfully, I really thought “Love, Lovers” was too long and too ambitious for its own good. After repeated listens, I’m still not entirely sure what the track is trying to say, but I think it’s progression is incredibly well done. It’s transition from simple drum and vocal experiment to full blown house track by the mid point is a thrill. It reminds me of some of my favorite progressive dance tracks like “Stay Out Here” by The Knife. “Listen listen, make me an opposition” Hval whispers, and then proceeds to howl like a monkey to close it all out.

I find the closer “Real Life” to be a bit underwritten and impressionistic as well. However, I really love both “Losing Something” and “Carried By Invisible Bodies”. The former was released as a single for the album, and its probably the only one I’d put on a playlist. It has a really steady and shimmery electronic flow to it, reminding me of Chromatics. Hval actually sings for the majority of the album as the backing slowly builds, adding some really excellent guitars to the skeletal structure. The climax of the track is legitimately exciting, riveting even, as Hval sings “Isn’t it that I’ve been losing something”.

The follow-up, “Carried By Invisible Bodies”, is the core of the album’s message in my opinion, and sonically it’s a beautiful marriage between the ecstasy of a rave and the philosophy of Hval’s lyrics. Even the “ooo”’s Hval belts out sound more soulful over this ethereal house beat that Håvard concocts. Toward the middle of the track, it breaks from its steady danceability to bring in some oddly signatured hi-hats that help her preach. She adeptly comments on trends and how irrelevant topics become over short periods of time, “But even, even my so-called realistic conversations are fictional right now/Because it's like, you know, everything is cancelled/But it wasn't cancelled yesterday/Yesterday, everyone said that it would go on/And then today, it was cancelled”. I just love how she talks directly to the listener and attempts to explain her art. Everything from her tone of voice to her closeness to the mic just gives me ASMR vibes all the way.

This is possibly the most unique and ambitious album of heard all year. There are some elements of it that I’m not quite into, again the closer really doesn’t hit like everything else on the album. Jenny has crafted a mature, contemplative and unique sound with Håvard that I think it really shines through on tracks like the opener and “Losing Something”. I do find some of what she does with the spoken word, philosophy and overall sound to be a pretentious and selfish, but again I think that’s kind of the point. This is a deeply personal and close record that makes the listener get into the mind of Hval, warts and all.

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