Sunday, 7 September 2014

Jenny Hval & Susanna - Meshes Of Voice - Album Review [7th September 2014]

[2014.09.07] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.

Meshes Of Voice is a fascinating collaboration between Jenny Hval and Susanna Wallumrød. This album represents their first recorded album together, but the way in which these premier Norwegian talents merge leaves terms like ‘debut’ or ‘first collaborative album’ redundant in spite of that language being technically accurate. This offering is whole; with its imagination relevant to a past tradition, a present mystery and a future vision, honouring the quality of its muse, the enigmatic 1943 film, Meshes Of An Afternoon by Maya Deren.

Both Hval’s and Wallumrød’s vocal talents are uniquely exquisite but, by the strength of their complimentary aesthetics, form a melodic hydra that characterises the heart of these compositions. Each instrument added to the orchestration feels like an embellishment to these rich voices, which duet as if they have been trained as twins from birth. Wallumrød’s fuller tone often leads in the mix, but the expression is a united force, with Hyal’s edgier voice fleshing the thought; sometimes in unison, sometimes with simultaneous alternative patterns and repeating phrases.

The traditional instruments used are mixed within a narrow texture, highlighting their timbre and influence in the sound. For example, As O Sun O Medusa wilts into A Mirror In My Mouth the transition, although seamless for other sounds, is recognisable for an acoustic guitar quietly assuming the waves of the new section’s (new track’s) arpeggios. Towards the end of Thirst That Resembles Me, a zither strikes unexpectedly out of a hypnotic repeated refrain. It’s crystalline quality is made particularly delicious to the ear as the arrangement presents it with such import. The music never travels too long before the listener is treated to a new idea, whether it is a new sound element, technique or phrase.

Equally as important to the overall expression as the melodic and instrumental choices is the use of reverberation, noise and distortion. These effects are treated as instruments in their own right, building intersections and links within the construction of the tracks. Whether prominently crashing into the sound hard, with unruly guitar feedback (as in Black Lake,) or isolating the vocals in a numbing thick air, (as in Thirst That Resembles Me,) the application of these qualities is less to colour an existing part, but to register with the listener as a part in its own right.

Hval and Wallumrød explain that mythical creatures, particularly those that spoke to womanhood, were a large inspiration for this record. Though this could naturally lead to a conceptual piece, the result goes even further into the theatrical paradigm for its structure, characterisation, and symbolic lyricism. Droplet, with its calm meditative loop brings us into the album’s world, the house lights are faded to Black Lake, and the story begins.
The track, I Have Walked This Body, builds in its sonic texture whilst the lyrics chart a journey ever deepening. This sense of layering is similar to the film which, too, shows characters (or versions of a character) repeatedly approaching and entering a house several times. The acrobatics that unfold from the duetting voices in this particular track quickly destroy any expectations and limits that the listener may have presumed early into the programme; we are in the presence of magicians and their itinerary is vast.

Repetitious motifs are drawn upon throughout the lyrics of Meshes Of Voice, much like the visual devices in the film; the knife, the flower and the disconnected telephone. Honey Dew, Milk and Bones are symbols that reoccur organically within Hval’s and Wallumrød’s lyrics and get re-evaluated in each new appearance. The contrast of sunlight and darkness are constantly exposing the nature of the oral testimonies. The penultimate track welcomes a dawn; an unveiling light. Having been set loose from a ‘Heart like a Black Lake,’ the album finally returns to that image as it closes, this time, sung with an ignited enthusiasm by Hval, delivering the lyrics in a wild incantation. The songwriters cite Athena, Medusa and Harpy as characters of particular interest in this study. Their examination is made painfully intimate by lyrics including first person confessions, characters working out their nature against the elements and their experience of the world. Any innocence is certainly fermented by the time this record finishes.

There is little relief within this emotional experience, and at fifty-plus minutes of sound, these intense expressions would rip apart the weary. However, the fluctuation in the tone and mood of each portion of this cycle formulates a playlist with all the necessary angles and curves to recharge energy in the listener to brave the more tumultuous chapters. This record is the result of a deep curiosity, explored by brilliant minds, and interpreted into a wild creation by uncompromising composers and performers. Meshes Of Voice is a triumph; simultaneously a mystery and a key. 

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