Live Review: Jenny Hval

20 January 2016 | 3:57 pm | Matt MacMaster

"It was only when she let her ideas collide with her incredible voice that she had the audience really tuning in."

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Reading Jenny Hval's internet press was not a good way to prepare for the show. Pieces about her or her albums are vague exercises in either conspiratorial (yet vacant) head nodding or blatant head scratching. This reviewer, sadly, is not equipped to add much to the milieu that could clarify Hval's mission. Hopefully it will simply encourage you to explore her multifaceted career for yourself. Ultimately, it's best to leave the talking to Hval.

A quick recap: After fronting a gothic metal band, Hval moved to Melbourne to study literature and then cut several folk/rock/art/pop albums under the name Rockettothesky and then several more under her given name, the latest being Apocalypse, girl for NYC tastemakers Sacred Bones.

Her show for the Sydney Festival was an odd mess punctuated by startling talent. After creeping on stage in a hazmat suit and a bad wig, Hval began with a quote from Danish poet Mette Moestrup, opening up Kingsize. She moved through a semi-spoken dissection of gender politics that tried to emphasise the objective strangeness of it all. It was challenging, but it was also cold and opaque. It was only when she let her ideas collide with her incredible voice that she had the audience really tuning in.

The pendulum swung wildly in terms of engagement. At one point she sat down and began playing with her phone, making some comments about it that had eyes rolling so hard you could hear it. She held the mic up to it while a wry cover of Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness bled through the speakers. The sequence hinged on narcissism (yours, hers, anyone's), and it was a nicely realised moment when it finally fell into place.

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Strange segments of awkward vacuum were shot through with a voice that would suddenly vault into the upper registers and an otherwise mundane observation on transience suddenly sliced through right to the nerves.

Where she lost people by meandering and mumbling (Drive), she won them back with subtle savagery, old fashioned songwriting (That Battle Is Over), and a voice that could melt glaciers.