Jenny Hval makes works of art out of simple pop songs. Not many performers would dare to stake that claim, but the 37-year-old Oslo artist has carved a successful niche for herself out of the dreamy border dividing multiple, seemingly disparate genres.
Known for her propensity to shock audience (as evidenced by 2016’s Blood Bitch, a full-length album about vampires, menstruation, and ’70s horror films), Hval has taken another road on her follow-up EP. The drowsy experimental pop on the four tracks of The Long Sleep is at once jazzy and cerebral, translating to a warm night full of shadows.
The opening track, “Spells,” puts the top down and cruises down the hypnotic highway before kicking over into a slick piece of dream/electro-pop. The groovy, sax-infused song is full of slender vocal harmonies, which are Hval’s signature instrument. Her voice is lilting and beautiful, which makes the fact that she was once the singer in a folk metal band even more perplexing. The vocal refrain becomes even thinner and more vulnerable on “The Dreamer Is Everyone In Her Dream,” a minimalist, ambient track, built mostly around a gentle piano.
On the album’s longest song, ten-minute titular work, the experimental aspects blur and soften. While the previous two tracks dabble, this plunges into pure, dreamy netherworld ambience that would feel right at home on Hans Zimmer’s Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. Finally, the album ends with “I Want To Tell You Something,” which is Hval simply talking (or mumbling, or pleading), giving away a secret that the listener feels she wants kept even from her audience.
While I admire The Long Sleep, it feels like a record I won’t, in a whole sense, return to. Some of these tracks may make a play list here and there, but it’s not as cohesive as my tastes would like. There is a lot of feeling here, highly personal ambience and secrets shared. Under Hval’s spell, pop music is voyeuristic, an eavesdropped conversation. It’s like you’ve walked in on someone’s incredibly tender moment, and your immediate feeling is that you’ve stayed too long.