The Practice of Love
After the billowing, nearly gothic pop of 2016’s Blood Bitch—which included a song constructed entirely from feral panting—Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval makes the unlikely pivot into brightly colored synth-pop on The Practice of Love. Rarely has music so experimental been quite this graceful, so deeply invested in the kinds of immediate pleasure at which pop music excels. Conceptually and sometimes formally, the album can be as challenging as Hval’s thorniest work. The title track layers together a spoken-word soliloquy by Vivian Wang, the album’s chief vocalist, with an unrelated conversation between Hval and the Australian musician Laura Jean, so that resonant details—about hatred of love, the fragility of the ego, the decision not to have children—drift free of their original contexts and intertwine over a bed of ambient synths. But the bulk of the record is built atop a shimmering foundation of buoyant synths and sleek dance beats, with memories of ’90s trance and dream pop seeping into cryptic lyrics about vampires, thumbsuckers, and nuclear families. In “Six Red Cannas,” Hval makes a pilgrimage to Georgia O’Keeffe’s ranch in New Mexico, citing Joni Mitchell and Amelia Earhart as she meditates on the endless skies above. Her invocation of such feminist pioneers is fitting. Refusing to take even the most well-worn categories as a given, Hval reinvents the very nature of pop music.