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INTERVIEW: Jenny Hval Talks About Her Solo Work and Her New Lost Girls Project

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Jenny Hval has wowed us again and again with her inventive approaches to pop music and her ever-evolving live show. Her music builds multi-faceted compositions of subtle electronics, spoken word, and ambushes with soaring vocals. Her lyrics are an intelligent and humorous look at life, death, capitalism, and the roles of women in a weird and unpredictable world. Though she’s low key about it, she is also incredibly prolific, with the EP, The Long Sleep, released in May, a 12 inch single out as half of Lost Girls, and a new novel out in the fall.

Jenny talked to us on the day between a set at Roskilde with Lost Girls, her side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden, and a set at Brorsons Kirke as part of Jazz Fest. She answered some questions for us over the phone while walking through Christiania (“I’ve actually never been here before. I’m walking around a bit, it’s really nice. I don’t know if actually saw the entrance. I just came in through some back roads.”) and shared her thoughts on touring as an income, the different aspects of productivity, and how both collaborators and visas have influenced her work.

What do you have planned while you’re in Copenhagen?

I haven’t been that much in Copenhagen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day to go anywhere to see anything before. I’m always just playing and then going somewhere far away the next day. This time I’m here for a few days because we’re doing several things, so we have a day off. It’s really nice. Just seeing things and rehearing a bit for tomorrow.

We were playing a Roskilde set and then also playing a set with my band. It’s just a lot of preparation because they’re not so dissimilar but the band is a five-piece band instead of a duo when we play Jenny Hval concerts at the moment. It’s super exciting for me because I have a trumpet player and a saxophone player. I’ve never had that kind of band before. It’s really exciting but we haven’t been able to rehearse because everyone’s away on summer holiday. It’s going to be a little intense tomorrow, but it’s going to be great.

Is this the first time this band is playing together?

It’s only the second time because we had a show in Oslo originally, but it was new. Then we had some shows that were booked before I knew that this band was happening. We’ve done so many different things, actually, and this always happens. I wish I had a way to figure out how to book things so that we could do something that’s a little more stable, but things are kind of falling out of the sky a bit. Some shows are booked six months in advance, some shows are booked a year in advance, some shows are booked two weeks. And then the band changes all the time. We’ve done shows with a choreographer and dancer who is now seven months pregnant, so she is now resting. But she was with us and then I needed to find someone else. So it keeps changing, and it’s really nice, but sometimes it’s then also creating this weird sudden changes in line-up and what we do. And that can be eccentric. But eventually it’s always great. Just sometimes it’s a little too fast for me and we have to think for a bit. But it’s been really good.

I tell people to go see you live specifically because the show is always so different. A friend of mine saw you play in New York and then I saw you play two weeks later in Denmark and it was completely different.

It’s kind of come together that way because of visa problems. Originally we couldn’t bring a band over to the US because — this was several years ago — the band didn’t have visas. It’s very hard. It’s even harder now, actually, to get visas to the US. So I started working with some Americans that I also worked with for music videos. For a while we had this strange, completely different way of arranging a show when we were in America and when we were in Europe. It was just a practical movement but it ended up being very educational and really wonderful for me. I’ve brought the American artists over to Europe, that’s much easier with visas. I’ve tried to make people see both versions over the past three years, but it’s really weird how very practical situations make for huge changes in the art sometimes. I’m really grateful for that. Thanks American visa situations!

That might be the only time anyone ever says that.

Yeah, and I’m not really saying it. But I’m very grateful for the artists and friends I’ve been able to work with. They influence the show greatly. Everyone I work with will change the show. It’s not really about me changing things, it’s the situation changing. Maybe I’ve made the concept of what a concert is pretty open so that I’m able to allow other people to change it. Hopefully I’m contributing to that. To me, it feels like sometimes I’m doing the same show until we start playing and I realize, “Oh, these other people are now changing things so I can do new things.” It really is very much about what other people do for me. Credit to them.

Related to how people change the performance, the Lost Girls was a very different experience seeing you perform. Has the project performed much?

We’ve done quite a few shows and also we’ve done many of my shows as a duo, as well. Sometimes because we’ve been on a long tour in the US and we couldn’t bring anybody because we couldn’t afford it. Sometimes because people were doing other projects. That’s kind of the core of my show as well, with different material and a different set up.

My project and the Lost Girls we don’t really see as something we need to separate so much from each other because when we play shows on the Friday and on the Sunday in the two different formats, it’s really quite ridiculous to try to force a separation. What you’ll see on Sunday will sometimes be very related. We’re playing a couple of the same songs, too, but hopefully the experience of the full performance will be different or at least a new experience, rewarding in its way.

How do the songs present themselves in the recording process as belonging in one place or another?

They don’t. I think we’ve worked together for so long that the thought process just needs to be within the music. We haven’t actually recorded anything knowing we’re Lost Girls ever. We recorded two songs for the 12 inch we released, but they’re so old. When we recorded Håvard’s track, we didn’t even know it was going to be a collaboration. Originally he was going to release it under his name.

I had a track that was like a third of my show for two or three years, it kept changing a lot, but it was this moment in a concert that was very, very, very much a part of my solo project, but only as a live version. We couldn’t make it fit on any of my albums. It was just too old and to different, I guess, from the albums I was making. These two tracks were just lying around and we finally got to finish them and we realized it should be a collaboration because we’ve contributed to each others’ work so much that it’s more of a collaboration than a solo thing for very different reasons. I still think they made a really nice combination on the 12 inch.

We’ve never recorded anything while we’ve been consciously aware of having a project. This will happen hopefully in the future. Not sure when. But it might or might not contain any of the stuff we’re doing now. We still haven’t figured out quite how we exist in a recording type thing.

You’ve created so much work in the last few years and it seems like you’re always on tour. What is your process that allows you to produce as much as you do while touring?

The reason why I can be productive is partly because of Norwegian funding. Because I can afford to do the touring. People say that the touring is an income, but it’s not for me and a lot of other artists unless you scale things down a lot to the bare bones or you have some kind of security net, which I do have, because I’m so lucky I’m Norwegian and I’ve been able to get touring grants and other grants for my work. That’s how I can focus on working. I don’t have to go back to a day job when I come back from a tour to fund the next tour.

But I think that I’m productive because I feel like I have to tour. I love playing shows but I’m very much of two minds about the need to be so visible. I think I have to compensate by producing a lot of stuff when I don’t tour because otherwise I’ll just die in a sea of visibility. My main work is not the traveling, my main work has always felt like the writing. When I’m on stage for that one hour when I am on tour, I feel like that’s the writing process. But the rest of it can be very difficult and tiresome.

That’s how I get energy also when I’m at home: I need to have a project and so I make a lot a new stuff. And I collaborate probably with the most productive person I’ve ever met. It’s very easy to get energy from other people’s constant ideas. It’s not about producing a lot of work, it’s more about this hunger for ideas and to engage with the world that I get from other people that I work with. The ideas and writing world around me is pretty rich, so I can join in on that energy also. I think for me it’s been easy. I also work really fast.

In terms of how you write or how you record?

I write pretty fast. For good and bad.

When I do write fiction, I’m fast but also slow. I’m fast to write a load of first draft stuff. Then it takes me a long time to expand and go really deeply into what I’m trying to say and create the rest — because I usually write down stuff and think, “It’s all here.” Then I realize, “No, it’s all here if I’m inside my head.” I need to go into an editing processes to make other people read what I heard in my head. And that takes a long time.

I envy a lot of people who do less. I think that there’s always a danger that being productive could also just be fitting in nicely with currently capitalist trends. The more you produce, the more you can be visible. At least for me it’s a way to be visible without compromise because — well, there’s always compromise — but at least then I have something that I’m proud to allow other to read or listen to instead of just being visible by having a scandalous Instagram. Some people are good at that, but I’m not. I struggle with the general visibility and accessibility. It’s easier for me to write and present new work than it is to tweet.

I know so many writers who put so much of their energy into social media because they feel like they have to even if they don’t want to.

I think that I probably would have produced a lot more and maybe bigger things if I didn’t have to do things like accounting and all the practical things. I probably do spend 50% of my time doing those things. Even if I seem productive, I’m also very productive — like everyone has to be — with all the stuff you just have to do. Because artists are forced into being freelancers and having our so-called businesses, a commercial business. Which means you’re trying to fit into something you don’t fit into. They’re very frustrating. But thankfully you can return to your art sometimes and get some other energy.

Just as you were saying touring isn’t the income source people think it is, there’s that whole unglamorous layer that people who receive regular paychecks don’t have a concept of.

Some artists, when they write about money, it’s amazing how much they know. I’m following a few and they write really great stuff about money because they know so much about the tax system, the interest rates, various loans you can get, the structures of how ideologies exist in the world. Sometimes that’s because of very unfortunate happenings, when you’re forced into being your own business and somethings goes wrong and blah blah blah blah.

So grant applications must be both a positive of that but also a different kind of time suck.

For sure. Also, in a country with a lot of grants, there will be some artists who do amazing work but they can’t write applications. Or they didn’t have the right education, so they struggle with being recognized. That’s a whole separate economy and world of recognition. It’s not like all Norwegian artists get those grants. Au contraire.

Back to what you were saying about writing fiction, do you think your novels influence the thematic nature of your albums? Or does your music influence your fiction?

I don’t know. I didn’t write Blood Bitch or Apocalypse, Girl in relation to any work of other writing. I didn’t write between 2012 and 2016 at all aside from music, and I also didn’t write those two albums thinking of themes at all. The themes were something I made long after I’d finished the album. But concepts and themes are not always something that’s planned. Sometimes the creative process is pretty independent. It’s unconscious. It seems so well planned afterwards because everyone reads the press release and the press release makes everything seem like it was planned. But don’t be fooled by a press release! It’s a treacherous little document.

All photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Alice, 08.07.2018

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As any of our readers might have guessed by now, Jenny Hval is one of Here Today’s favourite performers. We’ll brave anything, including the post-Roskilde blues to catch her live. Tonight in the intimate environment of Brorsons Kirke we had one of the best opportunities to see her up close, her conceptual theatrics brought into a more personal sphere. Her latest EP, The Long Sleep, sees her taking a more expansive, Pharoah Sanders approach to her music, complete with a horn section.

Tonight Jenny Hval has brought a stripped down horn section, trumpet and saxophone, to rework some of her previous material as well. “Conceptual Romance” begins by eschewing synths altogether, before gradually being joined by a Korg Minilogue and eventually a drum machine. But perhaps “stripped down” is not really the right term for a performance that involves abstract visuals and a member of the band distributing candyfloss from an ornate wooden box.

Of course the saxophone and trumpet really come into their own on “Spells”, where they weave with each other in an expansive, dreamy mood. This song also has the great virtue of showcasing Jenny’s vocal abilities, often obscured in her more spoken-word based work. From a low whisper she climbs up to the refrain’s heady, piercing notes that abandon conceptualism for something a little wilder and riskier.

Although there is a lot of thought and calculation in Jenny Hval’s work, including abstruse references to critical theory, there is also an immediacy to it. Nowhere is this more typified than in the smartphone suite that marks the middle of the performance. It is not unusual for Jenny Hval live sets to involve the band taking selfies and videos of the audience, but tonight they are using the phones for the music itself. Generating tones from an app, the band wave their phones in front of a microphone to produce varying layers of drones. It’s a pretty good summation of her approach to music: thoughtful, funny and beautiful at the same time.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018 Day 3, 06.07.2018

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David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

With the sun back in full force, Day 3 of Roskilde Festival 2018 was one for indoor sets. Klub Rå and Gloria provided us with much needed respite as well as moving electronic beats. We were ready for rock music outdoors by the time the sun started going down. Here’s how we paced our day:

The Lost Girls
Jenny Hval’s side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden is an amalgam of the experimental for the sake of being experimental and pop songs that sound like they’ve been skimmed out of her catalogue. There are weird vocal loops and Norwegian spoken word, but then there’s Volden’s guitar helping him produce the kind of tracks that indie rock bands wish they could dream up for their adventurous electronica crossover albums. It’s also clear that this is a way for Hval to play with vocals and not necessarily follow strict song structures, which it’s only become apparent she does follow in comparison.

Having seen Hval, and by extension, Volden, perform together on several occasions under her name, seeing them positioned across a table from each other without props or costumes or backup dancers is a totally different experience. It feels like getting insight into something not fully fledged, something we a privileged few have been allowed to hear. — AF

Laurel Halo live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Laurel Halo
Laurel Halo’s impressionistic electronic music is not for everyone. She challenges the listener with oddly structured songs and unsettling vocals devoid of traditional pop hooks. Her effected spoken-word breakdowns are long enough to make you wonder when the payoff will come, and then… it doesn’t. But if you’re adventurous enough to succumb and allow yourself to be drawn into her world, it’s full of distorted beauty, musical precision and good old club music bliss. Halo’s set started with her unique avant-pop musings but quickly developed into a dance-floor friendly techno set combining Latin percussion grooves, FM pads, vocal samples as well as her live keyboard playing. Ultimately, Halo’s originality seemed lost on the crowd inside Gloria, but those who were eager to dance were certainly not disappointed. — MT

Bisse live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Bisse
Danish art rocker, Bisse (née Thorbjørn Radisch Bredkjær), whose catapulting stardom has as much to do with his eccentricity as his prolific recorded output (8 albums since 2015), brought an electric energy to his performance on the Avalon stage. Flanked by two incredibly tight drummers up front while his guitarist and keyboard player shredded behind him, Bisse sauntered around the stage with the same confidence as Mick Jagger or Freddie Mercury. Through multiple costume changes and an elaborate scenography with a mirrored telephone booth style box in the centre, his playful attitude and outward sexuality blended with the raw power of his vocals to provide an engrossing experience. Bisse honours his Danish heritage by singing in his native language instead of crossing over to the more commercial English. Yet, he is poised to be one of the defining artists of our generation based entirely on the strength of artistic contributions. — MT

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
There is no ceremony when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds arrive on the Orange Stage, there is just the deafening wail of “Jesus Alone.” It’s an instant command of the situation, demand for attention, an establishment of dominance.

So the contrast of Cave climbing the rail to the crowd, allowing them to grasp his hands and paw at him, is immediate. He’ll end up in this place, on and off, for what amounts to half the set. It’s physically giving himself (and on some occasions, his microphone) over to people, whether making himself vulnerable as on the heartbreaking piano arrangement for “Magneto,” or simply trusting them as when he conducts their handclaps for “The Weeping Song.”

There is also sheer ferocity in the band on the whole: Warren Ellis is shockingly cruel to his violin on “From Her to Eternity,” making an unholy noise in the process; someone is forever having to deal with Cave looming over him at the piano; and “Jubilee Street” built to an explosive end that many performers would have found difficult to continue after.

Ultimately, the Nick Cave song everyone knows is “Into My Arms,” and Cave takes this opportunity to orchestrate a sing along. It brings levity to it everything, and is admittedly the least weird song for there to be a sing along to. It was a beautiful moment amongst the murder ballads. — AF

David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

David Byrne
David Byrne appears on stage sitting behind a long table, holding a plastic model of a human brain. This is the most boring thing to happen all set, because singing to a plastic model of a human brain pales in comparison to an 11-piece backing band, bare footed in matching gray suits, jumping around like an outsider artist marching band.

Byrne’s set is built around songs that focus on the barely-there silver linings of his back catalogue and desperate search for positivity in his new album, American Utopia, best evidenced by the perfect pairing of “Everybody’s Coming to My House” segueing into “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” He and his band are perfectly choreographed from the subtle hand flicks of his backing singers to arranged warrior poses full formation drum lines.

And if the collectivist rising evades you, if the lyrics to “Slippery People” don’t resonate as they should, he closes out the set with a  cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.” I don’t know how a song about police brutality in the United States translates for a European audience, but it felt very important to a transplanted American. It’s tying everything up with the heaviest moment, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this performance is an absolute joy.

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

Roskilde Festival 2017: Day 4, 01.07.2017

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Circuit des Yeux’s only Danish shows before today were in Copenhagen and have only been at Jazzhouse (she gives them a nod of gratitude toward the end of the set). So it’s pleasantly surprising to see how many people have turned up for her set at Gloria, given that the rain has stopped as well. We’ve been taken with her tenor-range alto since the first time we saw her, but it was exciting to see her performing with a band instead of solo. She is bolstered by a drummer and violist (and a bit of programming), turning her sinister folk somewhere between rocking and terrifyingly demonic. She closed the set with a new song, so we hope this means she’ll be back again soon.

It doesn’t matter how many times we see Jenny Hval, if she’s playing live we’ll be there. The main reason is that we know that no matter how recently we’ve seen her, the performance itself is going to be different from the last time. A festival stage is a very different setting from a small club, but she compensated with her own take on volume, namely billowing sheets of plastic.

In addition to her usual person behind the control panel, she had another synth player/vocalist and a tuba player, both whom were occasionally called upon to abandon their instruments and leap around the stage while Jenny sang as though none of it was happening around her. It takes tremendous commitment to an idea to jump to the rhythm of an odd ball song while swinging around a big fuck off sheet of plastic like it’s a normal activity.

Slowdive have played Roskilde fairly recently, but not surprisingly their 2014 set at 02:30 wasn’t very highly attended. Not the case at their set at Avalon at what they refer to as a more reasonable hour of 18:00. Then they were riding on reunion buzz, but now they’re supporting a new album. They’ve balanced their set well, weaving in new songs with their back catalogue and still seemingly genuinely excited that they’re performing. Whether it’s Avalon’s sound system or the band’s own mixing choice, there’s a lot of bass in this performance, and it’s melodic and driving enough that we don’t mind that it matches the guitars in volume at all. Interestingly, it’s the new singles “Star Roving” and “Sugar for the Pill” that elicit the biggest cheers. It seems Slowdive have succeeded in introducing themselves to a completely new audience.

Some bands appear to have been specially designed and cultivated in a B-movie laboratory in order to headline a festival, and Arcade Fire are without a doubt one of the prime examples of this. The massive hooks and singalongs that sound more than a little bombastic on record make perfect sense in this massive muddy field. Opening with “Wake Up”, the band do just that, warming up the audience in record time, to the degree that it’s only a few minutes into the set that Win Butler has managed to jump on top of our very own Morten Aagard Krogh in the photo pit. New material from their soon-to-be-released fifth album, Everything Now, is carefully sandwiched between some of their more dance and electronica-leaning work, with the transition between “The Sprawl II” and “Reflektor” being particularly pleasing in its smoothness. Having whipped themselves up with an obvious closer like “Rebellion (Lies)”, Win insists on returning to the stage for one last goodbye, with “Neon Bible”.

It feels like a natural quiet ending, but ance outfit Moderat  – a hybrid of Berlin electronica acts Apparat (Sasha Ring) and dance duo Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) – have other plans. The after-midnight gig lasted three hours (at the tail-end of a rainy festival, even our hardiest reviewer only lasted one) and cemented why the outfit has been much-hyped as the ultimate electronica live act. Pounding beats were accompanied by a visually-intricate light show, oscillating from pulsating singles with frenetic drums before moving into mid-tempo ambient tracks. The festival setting meant the volume was higher than any club, leaving a lasting impression of a powerful show for festival-goers to trudge home to.

Here Today’s Albums of the Year of 2016

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We’re not going to spend time talking about what a brutal year 2016 was for music lovers. Regardless of what genre you favor, 2016 was a year that took someone away from you. And while that might be the most immediately enduring sentiment about the past year, it’s necessary to take strength in the incredible music that was released this year. In the past 12 months, we’ve been blown away by newcomers and watched artists we’ve been rooting for all along come into their own. We’ve welcomed back old friends and received beautiful goodbyes from heroes. It’s because it’s been such an extraordinarily, musically rich year that we’ve made it through at all. These are our favorites:

Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

Angel Olsen
MY WOMAN
[Jagjaguwar]

It’s two short years ago that Angel Olsen first captured our hears, but she’s come a long way from her minimalist, finger-picked solo guitar tracks. On MY WOMAN, Angel builds out her dreamiest moments into vast washes of rumbling guitar with vague memories of folk somewhere in the distance. This hasn’t stopped her from writing snappy pop songs or experimenting with synthesizers. Her vocals are just as moving as ever, but where quiet whispers were once her stock and trade, there is real evidence that Angel could be a leading rock vocalist of her generation.

And that’s what is so exciting about both Angel and this record: On MY WOMAN, she shows not only that an understanding of what she does so well, but that her own potential is limitless. More to the point, we can see now that she’s ambitious enough to follow that potential it wherever it takes her. — AF

Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Puce Mary
The Spiral
[Posh Isolation]

When Puce Mary released The Spiral, her third LP, she played a release concert at Mayhem, and the performance she gave is a serious contender to being the most intense of 2016. Stripped of the insane decibels, Puce Mary’s confrontational yet trance-like stage appearance, the lights and the smoke, The Spiral is still a captivating experience. The eight tracks on the album are very distinct, yet they blend together forming a whole that sucks you in as it progresses. Puce Mary is a master of contrasts, her music is brutal yet subtle, even fragile, and even though compositions are industrial, her music feels alive like an organism.

Last but not least:  It sounds amazing. The noise, the textures, the strange field recordings, the distorted vocals. The Spiral is an intense and demanding record, but also truly inspiring and in it’s own, complex way beautiful. — MAK

Mitski live Copenhagen Loppen

Mitski
Puberty 2
[Dead Oceans]

While it seemed as though she appeared from nowhere to make us get in touch with our feelings, Mitski has been toiling away for years now. Her fourth album, Puberty 2, perfectly combines her prolific efforts with a youthful perspective and energy and just enough life experience to make you believe her. The album is full of subtle bleeps and horn flourishes, but watching her play stripped back versions of the album was a highlight of the year.

It takes a good amount of self-awareness to call your album Puberty 2, and so much of its charm is her unabashed willingness to be awkward — which somehow also makes her the coolest girl in the room. You will feel like Mitski just gets you, and you’re probably giving yourself too much credit. We definitely understand the impulse, though. — AF

Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[GOOD]

The Life of Pablo is a tricky, slippery thing of an album. Less of an album, really, than a saga, an half year long event tracking the evolution of an album. But really, it’s just a collection of some very good tracks by a producer who, whatever else he might be, is also touched by genius. From Nina Simone and Arthur Russel, via Chicago house, to Frank Ocean and Desiigner, Kanye’s sample palette is as diverse, crazy and unique as ever.

In 2013 Kanye West marked the death of physical media with the cover of Yeesus, an “open casket to CDs”. That was an album full of energy joyous destruction. It seems fitting that with The Life of Pablo, Ye confronts us with the direct evidence of the technical and emotional demands of the new dominant technology. Keep it loopy. — CC

Cate Le Bon live

Cate Le Bon
Crab Day
[Drag City]

There is a feeling of kinship that runs through Cate Le Bon’s music, that if you yourself have ever toed the line between interesting and just strange leads her to sound identifiable even in her most abstract images. Le Bon is a master of oddball pop songs, with her ramshackle style of guitar playing and many unique turns of phrase.

Crab Day demonstrates the same dry vocal delivery that has always set her apart and given her music so much personality, but this time she’s pushed herself and her sound to new depths. She’s stretch her vocal range and brought a new emotional connection to her songs, which is emphasized in her commitment to her visual lyrics. She’s also introduced some legitimate guitar solos to her work. Album closer “What’s Not Mine” stretches to seven minutes of everything we find charmingly off kilter about Cate Le Bon’s music, which is to say, it’s perfect. — AF

Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Fat White Family
Songs for Our Mothers
[Fat Possum]

Few bands are able to channel hatred with the pure intensity and conviction of the Fat White Family. If this is their “difficult second album”, the difficulty lies more in their own physiological limitations, rather than in a lack of ideas or direction. Songs for Our Mothers promised to “dance to the beat of human hatred”, but little did we know back in January the degree to which that emotion would imprint itself in 2016.

Harold Shipman, Ike Turner, Goebbels: the gleeful offensiveness of the cast goes hand in hand with a deeper moral outrage, as the Family wrap themselves further and further in darkness, with only their humour and some wicked riffs for support. There’s no knowing what the next year will bring, but we can only hope the Fat White Family will be around, in some form, to rage against it. — CC

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch
[Sacred Bones]

On the face of it, this is a synthpop album about female vampires. But anyone approaching Jenny Hval’s latest album with the expectation of a thematically-coherent concept album clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Jenny’s dark and aloof sense of humour are present in all her work, and particularly on stage, and this year’s effort manages to be a lot stranger than it promised to be.

Though there are undeniably some very lush synth pieces on this record, particularly in its two singles, “Female Vampire” and “Conceptual Romance”, we don’t necessarily rush to Jenny for her tunes, but rather for the oddities that surround them. A moment of creepy melancholy in “Untamed Region” (I told you she was funny) is punctuated by a clip of documentarian Adam Curtis talking about the helpless confusion that seems to characterise our era. Jenny Hval isn’t pretending to guide us out of that confusion, but what she builds upon it well worth the listen.

— CC

PJ Harvey
The Hope Six Demolition Project
[Island Recordings]

The Hope Six Demolition Project is the follow up to the Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake, and PJ Harvey continues along the same lines collaborating with Mick Harvey, John Parish, Flood and documentary photographer/filmaker Seamus Murphy. But this time she has taken a more conceptual approach and adopted a role as a sort of singer/songwriter journalist reporting from her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. This also applies to the recording process, that was framed as a performance open to the public. While some critics have expressed skepticism about the mix of music and reporting, we applaud her exploration of music as vehicle for change, and together with the albums distinct sound, musical quality and her impressive live performance this earns her a place on our list.

Honorable Mentions

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

Danny Brown – Antrocity Exhibition

Lambchop – Fotus

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Factory Floor – 2525

Holy Fuck – Congrats

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 29.10.2016

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Some artists have projections rolling behind them when they play live. Jenny Hval has a woman in a body suit rolling suggestively on top of an inflatable kiddie pool, drinking wine.

This isn’t shocking or perplexing for even a second. When you sign up to see Jenny Hval, you look forward to something a little weird. This time around at Jazzhouse, things are lower-budget, no video screens, only one backing dancer doing whatever it is she’s doing, and the sole video cued up on a laptop that definitely can’t be seen from the back of the room. But what’s great about it is that as serious as the tone of the music is — and Jenny’s latest, Blood Bitch, has a number of tense moments — the performance itself clearly isn’t. Everyone in the room is in on the joke. Jenny herself knows how absurd the plastic kiddie pool, the squashed up fruit, the strewn flower pedals that land in people’s drinks look, and that’s why it’s fun instead of uncomfortable.

The truth is that musically speaking, Jenny Hval’s live performance would be a one-to-one interpretation from her albums. It’s a function of her music being primarily electronic and her voice being solid and reliable. But she’s aware of this lack of variation in her sound and translates it to what could fairly be described as batshit crazy art school nonsense for her visuals.

There is more spontaneity on this tour, perhaps because it’s not so seamlessly scripted as when she toured Apocalypse, Girl. There’s more conversation with the audience about the songs and the props. There are explanations for the back row when Jenny and her companion sit pants-less in the pool with sunglasses on, rubbing their hands and legs with red dye. During “That Battle is Over,” the pool is flipped over Jenny, delighting the young children in the front row who peer through its translucent sides and wave at her (what parent thought it was a good idea to bring their children to this show, I can’t explain, but at least her visuals are on the side of suggestive that to an innocent mind would just be silly).

As the evening winds down and a lyric from “Kingsize” is teased before devolving into the cacophony of “Plague.” The kiddie pool, meanwhile, has been cast out into the crowd, with the backing dancer looking on in distress and trying to call it back. When it does make it back to the stage, they deflate it together.

If you’ve made it this far and are completely perplexed, all we can say is that Jenny Hval has been confirmed for Roskilde 2017. This is your advance warning: Do not sleep on that.

Our Top 20 Albums of 2015

in Blog by

Every December the staff of Here Today meet to decide our favourite albums of the year. It’s an ugly brawl, with scars lasting well into the next Spring. This year, to save ourselves a bit of dignity, we thought we’d ask our readers to pick the best of our 20 candidates for best album. The voting will end at midnight on the 20th of December, but we will be arguing the case for each album until the final day.

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Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

When relationships end, it can get ugly fast. Some people lash out, and some turn it inwards. The source of heartbreak on Majical Cloudz’s Are You Alone matter far less than the overarching contemplation of what it means to be in love or alone. The down tempo album of pianos, synths, and solo vocals on this particularly lovelorn album makes it your best friend and companion for rainy days or just days when you can’t bear to face the world. And it’s still got more dignity to it than a Netflix marathon.

Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Protomartyr had all the makings of the next garage rock band of the minute, but there are already enough swampy vocals out there. What there isn’t enough of is the deadpan delivery that makes this band instantly recognizable. It’s as if that voice has given them license to go ever so slightly off the rails; with atypical narratives and atypical song structures, The Agent Intellect wraps its frayed ends around you and grips tightly. All the proof you need is in the second movement of “Why Does It Shake?” If that doesn’t make it a contender for song of the year, there’s no hope for any of us.

Jamie xx – In Colour

It seems ridiculous that In Colour is actually Jamie xx’s debut album as a solo artist. After two LPs with the xx, producing Gil Scott Heron’s I’m New Here, and countless remixes, finally we have a full-length album with Jamie’s name on the cover. Not that he is alone: xx bandmates Romy Croft and Oliver Sim make an appearance, as well as Young Thug and Popcaan. The result is a bright collection of down-tempo dance tunes with a nostalgic bent.

Viet Cong – Viet Cong

The Canadian quartet’s self-titled album is a soundtrack through a dystopian fairyland (and with song titles like “Pointless Experience,” “Bunker Buster,” and “Death,” that’s not really projecting). Pulled between ambient synths and math rock guitars, pulsed by deceptively understated drums,Viet Cong falls into loops that you could easily roll through for hours at a time without wanting to break out of the cycle. You’ll snap out of it, though, when the faux nice-guy vocals kick in and remind you that these guys have a fatalist streak in them. It’s definitely one of the most exciting debut albums of the year.

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

It’s been exciting to watch Chelsea Wolfe develop as an artist, and even more still to see how she’s harnessed the competing elements of her music in new ways. Abyss is her most balanced record yet, allowing her voice to float through quieter arrangements instead of always serving as a contrast to the intensity and harshness of the noise she works with. Songs liked “Grey Matter” hit that sweet spot of letting her voice shine over the aggression instead of in spite of it, but never let us worry for a second. Wolfe can make even the ugliest noises sound beautiful.

Sufjan Stevens  – Carrie & Lowell

Where other albums this year have distinguished themselves in their inventive production, Sufjan Steven’s seventh studio album takes the opposite approach: the instrumentation is limited, often nothing more than a finger-picked guitar, and effects are kept to a minimum. What we are left with is the deep melancholy of Stevens’ soft vocals, and his lyrics of loss. As a counterpoint to this close focus on the singer-songwriter’s emotional state, there is a limpid precision to his playing that cuts through the whole record, elevating it from naked confession to finely-wrought statement.

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Noah Lennox, co-founder of Animal Collective, returned with an album that showcases his signature blend of electronic pop and off-kilter psychedelia. It’s all there: the weird tropicana, angelic Brian Wilson voice, the bouncy synths. Noise and melody intertwine until they are indistinguishable from each other, lyrics melt into chorus-laden chants. Some critics have complained that none of this is particularly new with Panda Bear, but when the results are this good, it seems like a rather minor complaint.

Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa

From Kinshasa to the Moon: this is the trajectory declared by the Congolese 7-piece at the beginning of their debut album. The record label may have neglected to append the destination to the album title, but the rest of the world hasn’t. It’s an often-bewildering journey, full of unfamiliar pulsating rhythms and dark bass lines, that don’t conform to what we would comfortably like to call ‘afro-beat’. Acoustic elements clash with lo-fi synths, the synchopated drums countered by the regularity of the electronic beats. It’s the sound of a big, busy, alien city moving into the future: crowded, idiosyncratic, chaotic and heady.

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Some of us refused to believe that a member of Fleet Floxes could have a sense of humour. But say what you like about I Love You, Honeybear, it is not an album that takes itself very seriously. Josh Tillman has produced an album of nostalgic bar-ballads and folk love-hate songs suffused with bright colour and a sly wit. Perhaps what has captured the imagination of so many listeners is this odd juxtaposition between, on the one hand, Tillman’s emotional delivery and sentimental arrangements, and on the other, his withering treatment of millennial culture. It might be ridiculously mean-spirited, but if Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” is anything to go by, most people are down with you insulting your former girlfriends as long as you do so in such an obvious way that it ends up biting your own ass.

Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon

Father John Misty was not the only one this year to make waves with some retro singer-songwriter nostalgia. But Tobias Jess Jr is less barroom depressive, more of a grand piano melancholic. Double-tracked vocals, minimal instrumentation, and heartfelt lyrics: it’s probably not a stretch to guess that plenty of weddings in 2016 are going to feature “Without You” on their playlist.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

West-coast rap’s rising star exploded this year with To Pimp A Butterfly. Grandiose yet subtle, rooted yet avant-garde, the album is the perfect distillation of the best of both the old guard (Dre, Snoop, George Clinton, Ronald Isley) and the new (Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Rapsody). Full of the smoothest grooves and catchiest beats, the real strength of the album is how even the smallest details contribute to creating a vibrant, exciting whole. There is a moment at the end of “Wesley’s Theory”—when what sounds like a phone vibrating turns out to be the saxophone intro to the wild jazz of “For Free”— that perfectly sums up the level of creativity, humour and dedication that has had critics call this the definitive rap album of the decade.

Joanna Newsom – Divers

A new record from Joanna Newsom should always be considered a notable event. But if Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly can be considered a defining part of 2015, to say the same of Divers would feel faintly ridiculous. Divers is as much part of 1715 and 2215 as it is of this year. And that is what makes Newsom such a unique, fearless voice, one that can dedicate itself to the research of how humans work through and against time without even a hint of pretension. And an album whose first single opens with these lines is worthy of every accolade: “The cause is Ozymandian / the map of Sapokanikan / is sanded and bevelled / the land lone and levelled / by some unrecorded and powerful hand.”

Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida

Sometimes what makes an album stand out is the reception it gets when you play it to other people. This year Dick Diver’s Melbourne, Florida stood out for this very reason. The sound is instantly familiar, songs distantly remembered from a past life, worming themselves back into your working memory. Those more familiar with the Aussie quartet will point out that the band have already made a name for themselves with their first three albums, but I can personally testify that everyone I’ve introduced to “Waste the Alphabet” and “Tearing the Posters Down” already has these engraved in their minds alongside the best that 80s and 90s indie pop ever produced. And don’t be fooled into taking this as twee: with song titles like “Beat Me Up (Talk To a Counsellor)”, there is a dark, caustic wit to Dick Diver that makes them worth anyone’s time.

Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

After dazzling us with the dark, swirling chaos of Loud City Song in 2013, Julia Holter’s follow up, Have You In My Wilderness, presents itself as something of a return to the light. Gone are the dark horns and paranoid bass, replaced by harpsichord and dreamy strings. But don’t be fooled, there is still plenty of dark weirdness in Holter’s lyrics and vocal delivery. It’s just that they have been transferred into the bright, white room shown in the cover art. Opening with “Feel You” the closest thing to a pop-song Holter has ever produced, Have You In My Wilderness demonstrates a new, luxuriant side to an artist that will always be a part of Here Today’s personal pantheon.

Holly Herndon – Platform

If there’s an album that would be ridiculous to listen to in any analogue format, it’s Holly Herndon’s Platform. This collection of glitchy digital compositions captures the often-overlooked joys and perils of living through computers. Herndon has taken the Knife’s school of heavily-effected vocals to new extremes, sounding more like a computer that is trying to reconstruct music from a broken hard-drive. If that sounds a little off-putting, one can only respond that this is the whole point, but that is not to say that songs like “Chorus” and “Morning Sun” aren’t almost danceable. It’s just that they re-create what it’s like to listen to dance music on headphones, whilst browsing the internet: fractured, distracted, introverted. And it’s about time that we focused on the way that most of us listen to music day to day.

Blur – The Magic Whip

Since their reunion in 2009, Blur have peeked their heads around the corner every so often with a tour and a new single to make their existence more than a nostalgia trip. The Magic Whip, however, is the first real evidence that there is intention left in them. They’re a band whose members have gone in different directions in the last 10 years and brought those experiences back with them, but remember what it is everyone loves about them. Crunchy, abstract guitar solos? Check. Moody broody ballads? Check. Big, joyful singalong choruses? Check. Any memory of Britpop? Successfully traded for the here and now. Rather than argue that this is the best album of their career, it’s more apt to appreciate that this is exactly the record you would hope they would make now.

Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl

It’s taken five albums, but with Apocalypse, Girl Jenny Hval has finally found a way to skip down the weird/accessible line with just the right balance. The Norwegian singer (who is one fourth Danish) got us all grooving to references to breast cancer and soft dicks, sneaking in feminist and anti-capitalist declarations with admirable wit. Her avant garde pop is a patchwork of electronic music, chilled beats, spoken word and gentle vocals. And yeah, you do feel a little dirty singing along to some of it (most of it?), but a huge part of Hval’s appeal is that she never forgets that the most effectively subversive music is, at its heart, fun.

Various Artists – Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton

Karen Dalton was a literally unsung hero of the New York folk scene in the 60s. She released a couple of albums of covers, but was too affected by anxiety to keep recording, and never shared any of the songs she wrote herself. Fast forward to 20 years after her death and her songs are seeing the light of day, albeit through the interpretations of other artists. While Sharon Van Etten had chords for the title track, other artists had only lyrics to work with, making this album a collection of songs by artists like Julia Holter, Marissa Nadler, Isobel Campbell, and Josphine Foster, with lyrics by Dalton. The lineup alone should make Remembering Mountains an overlooked gem, but the thread of Dalton’s work tying the songs together makes it truly special.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BBNZIKlMpw

New Order – Music Complete

New Order have existed under that name in various incarnations for 35 years, but they still hold a place as the quintessential party band for the types of kids who don’t get invited to a lot of parties. Music Complete will definitely get you dancing, and the loss of Peter Hook means that there’s something really genuine in the laments of broken relationships (and with such a distinctive style, Hook is actually pretty easy to copy). Plus the guest appearances from Iggy Pop, La Roux, and Brandon Flowers also bring in unique sinister vocals, over the top pop shine, and a kind of meta-New Order interpretation respectively.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is one of those artists that you really feel you could be friends with. She has no trouble relating the mundane in life with a dry delivery and a sense of humor that holds your interest. On Sometimes, she’s learned to use that voice to convey a deeper sense of ennui, as on “Depreston” and even hint at unexpected emotions other than boredom in “Dead Fox” before amping things back up with “No One Really Cares If  You Don’t Go to the Party.” And that’s really why Courtney Barnett could be our pal; she’ll tell crazy stories and entertain a full room, but probably spend the next two weeks hiding at home. We can get behind that.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 24.06.2015

in Live Reviews by
Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse, Copenhagen 2015

Whenever artists make an off-kilter record, it’s always exciting and a little nerve-wracking to see how they will perform it. In the case of Jenny Hval, whose latest album, Apocalypse, Girl, combines spoken word with muted electronics and some odd-ball pop songs, there are any number of ways her performance at Jazzhouse could go wrong.

The show, however, is far beyond a concert and more along the lines of performance art. It’s pure entertainment, the kind you recommend and don’t worry about whether or not other people will find it strange. [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”via @heretodaydk”]You’d have to be completely joyless not to find humor in Hval’s avant garde fly girls[/inlinetweet], who play with an iPad that projects onto a screen on stage, or gyrate in the shadows of a backlit screen, or momentarily take over to sing a karaoke version of Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl.”

Hval herself angles for subtler performance, wearing a reddish wig for no apparent reason, allowing herself to be jostled by the fly girls, and pausing slightly longer during “Kingsize” when she declares “I am one-fourth Danish,” to allow the crowd to cheer (which they do).

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Hval never seems to exert herself when she sings; no matter how far she stretches her voice or her range, her body is languid, lax, her posture somewhat lazy. She balances this nicely with projections of a woman smoking, sped up just enough to make it twitchy whereas Hval is anything but.

The visual aspect of the set is a tremendous counter to the fact that the music side of the performance doesn’t differ at all from the recordings. But you could never argue that you haven’t been given a real treat. For how casual the evening feels, it’s clearly choreographed down to the wigs being pulled off at the end of “The Battle is Over.” Hval has to apologize to the crowd that there won’t be an encore, that they haven’t prepared one. And after the spectacle of the last hour, it’s better that she walks away than offers anything less.

 

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