Jenny Hval takes a morbid pleasure in using her voice to provoke discomfort on her second full-length release. From the opening lyrics of the title track to the arcing croon of “The Seer,” Innocence Is Kinky lives its title through a bravery bordering on refuge in audacity. It seems to be a defense based in false naïveté, where Hval's surrealistic persona adds a unique flourish to a collection of unabashedly smart and well constructed songs on gender and sexuality. As the record unfolds, this keen irreverence pays off. Innocence Is Kinky reveals itself as one of the better singer/songwriter albums of 2013, hiding a deeply powerful message under the false guise of shock.
Jenny's voice throughout Innocence Is Kinky is mixed high, tactile and wet and percussive. I prefer it as such, because the balance of the album lies in its uncanny subversion of what might be expected for a female-driven vocal pop album. Hval excels in a brand of flippant, mellifluous, blink-and-you-miss-it vocal arcs and tweaks, exploring each crevice in the spaces she creates. It reminds me initially of traditional folk music, but there is also a jazzy complexity at work, a melodic savvy and faith in her instrument that excuses the occasional over-indulgences. Her lyrics are bluntly profane, a system of orifices and gasping non-metaphors; not just "having sex" but "fucking."
I find that the most glaring examples of Jenny's over-exuberance also make for the strongest songs. The title track opens the record with a disarming declaration of love for internet porn, but soon transforms into a surreal and powerful expression of sexual independence. “Mephisto In The Water” finds her protracting the song's bridge and repeating its last few words, tensely ascending in pitch until she goes flat, clamoring against her vocal nuances in a strenuous show of loss or need or something stranger. “Death Of The Author” drops off halfway into a clattering chorus of fuzz and percussion, Hval crying out an existential mantra: “Me by your eye/me by your hand/me by your mirror.” “The Seer” closes out the record as a keenly transformative manifesto, a spiritual awakening of vowels and endlessly reverberating tonal quirks, layered over a dense religious drone.
On its own, the material backing Jenny Hval's singing is nothing remarkable, and pretty disconnected. It is a typical grab-bag of drone-influenced pop, with occasional rock passages and some experimentation with noise and feedback. On her sheer strength alone she elevates the quality of the album to something transfigured and new, though. Commanding unfettered confidence she sings on gender, sex, repression, Oedipal complexes, femininity and a loss of identity so viscerally so that the songs are not distinguished by their accompaniments but the topics and her unmatched ferocity in approaching them. I will return to it often, if only to glimpse a little gracious bit more of its depths.