Thrumming synthesizer tones phasing in and out like traffic lines receding in the rearview of a van on a never-ending highway, Jenny Hval peers into the distance. "Dear so-and-so," she addresses her audience, "How small I am." "On the highways, and on the planes / In the cars, and in the malls," Jenny Hval is on the road, and the persisting vastness of everything is claustrophobic in its emptiness.
The final, 13-minute draft of an extended composition Hval and multi-instrumentalist Håvard Volden have been workshopping and improvising through on the Norwegian artist's tours over the past several years, "Drive" is the natural outcome of a touring experiment — a road narrative filled with nagging thoughts about the crushing, penetrating alienation brought on by touring life and the built-in absurdity of delivering intimate music to new sets of strangers every night.
Locked into the plodding holding pattern of Volden's hand drumming, Hval describes her situation in terms of emotional auto-pilot ("The van does the drive for me") while diaristically positioning her displacement within the contexts of patriarchal hegemony and the passive cult of consumerism, but as the track extends over sleek synth chords, a shaker and an acerbic kick track take hold at the piece's climax, Hval's monologue coils tighter into self-critique, every thought punctuated with hammering electricity.
Struck by the implications of having requested audiences to cry with her, she asks, "Isn't that just manipulation?" and considers the authority of Hollywood movies, arena concerts, and eventually her own stage, scrutinizing every kiss in the rain and every time the lights illuminate a string section before considering her own positionality as a performer on a stage raised above her audiences, if even only slightly.
For all those manipulating trespasses and the unplaceable feelings they provoke, she prescribes emotional labour as grounding self-care, instructing listeners to continually evaluate: "Who does your feeling?"
Although originally conceived and created in and for a different context than "Drive," 11-minute companion piece "Accept" (originally recorded four years ago by Volden) complements the former's formalism with an avant-psychedelic eruption of paisley-free expression unfiltered by language or form, Hval's mostly non-verbal vocalisations growing from whooping calls to dizzyingly elongated cries as the piece graduates from ambient textures and nature sounds to chiming guitar noise and bludgeoning free-jazz drumming, its single, hypnotically repeated lyric hitting like a meditation affirmation in favour of the self-questioning message Hval landed on at the end of the first track: "Accept the risk." It's less arresting than "Drive," but in its own droning way, it's visceral and emotionally probing just the same, all the while circumventing the manipulations of "Drive" and giving listeners their own landscape to project their associations on.
It's a high-minded statement of art music that's indebted to the moment, but as the duo indicates in a press statement, these compositions can't and won't be replicated again live in the foreseeable future. But packaged under the Lost Girls moniker (apart from credits on Hval's solo recordings, Volden has previously released music with her as Nude on Sand), Feeling brings within reach and makes malleable private, unknowable feelings, and for now, that means a lot. (Smalltown Supersound)