Jenny Hval

Rivoli, Toronto ON, September 27

Photo: Karl Edwin Scullin

BY Jazz MonroePublished Sep 28, 2013

Joined by two frowning men in sensible shirts, Jenny Hval took the Rivoli stage to modest applause. The crowd was sparse, but comfortably so; sympathy for Hval's themes of social and psychological dissonance sort of precludes belief in communal euphoria. Understated and composed, her stage presence embodies lyrical themes of disconnected body and mind — take "It is an act of love, he enters you through your body," from "Renée Falconietti of Orléans"; even when Hval sings about sex, it's anything but sexy.

That disconnect extends to her music. Less referential of other music than natural and psychological states, its converged textures and sidewinding rhythms mimic the tricky process of keeping balance in a world rocked by advancing technology. Appropriately, the set opened with "The Seer," whose synthetic organs and disembodied wails serve as a microcosm for her John Parrish-produced 2013 album Innocence is Kinky. Hval possesses a flexible range of Scandinavian folk vocals that dip and bend like rivers at cross-currents, intercut with semi-audible spoken interludes. One such narrative, "Oslo Oedipus," Hval delivered over fuzzy hip-hop played from an iPhone held to the mic.

The performance fascinated and innovated effortlessly. "I Got No Strings" married the tingling friction of the avant-garde with post-punk's propulsive menace; "Death of the Author" saw a drum machine merge into cascading cymbal rushes; and an impressive new song evoked the cipher of Kate Bush drifting through medieval castle baileys.

Because Hval remained glued to a static synth-and-mic setup, her outbursts of poetry and vocal stunt-pilotry gushed from a restrained unit, playful contortions writhing from her larynx as lyrics escaped into the abstract. In this respect, the show worked on a conceptual level, demonstrating that placid surfaces can conceal volatile undercurrents. But while Hval's recorded music is a mirror that reflects the repressed Western subconscious, a diving board to dark epiphanies on art, morality and pornography, its delivery into the physical realm resulted in a live experience that didn't so much thrill as intrigue.

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