Music Reviews

Meshes of Voice, by Jenny Hval & Susanna

Meshes of Voice Cover

What an eclectic mass of sound here. Much range heard on this surrealistic work uniting Norwegian singers Jenny Hval & Susanna Wallumrød.

Contributing much more than their voices, between Hval and Wallumrød is heard various effects, noise and samples, as well as guitar, electric harmonium, autoharp and piano. In addition, musicians Anita Kaasbøll and Jo Berger Myhre contribute drums, double bass and zither, extending the album’s dimension considerably.

You might know Hval from her slinky 2013 release, Innocence Is Kinky (Hval’s next album, Apocalypse, Girl, is slated for a June 2015 release on Sacred Bones), or Wallumrød perhaps from Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. The Magical Orchestra, a duo consisting of Wallumrød with keyboard-player Morten Qvenild, is known particularly for covers of legends like Leonard Cohen, Kiss, Dolly Parton and Scott Walker.

This album, though, stands out as something quite different from either artist’s previous efforts.

Swirling within the blurry confines of place and emotion, Meshes of Voice brings to ears what is a dark and strong life expressed with sharp and stirring words. The lyrics just brim with vivid images, such as the infamous black lake, a stygian symbol of haunt recurring throughout the album. Stunning too are the more visceral images bizarrely uniting nature with man: running milk down the legs; skin forged out of seaweed; honeydew behind the eyes; children from spit—these deeply submerged in pools of sound lapping and crashing ears, dredged up by Hval and Wallumrød in quite unique performances.

For the most part, both singers hone unique expressions of their instrument using minimal electronic effect, relying largely on what might be best described as a kind of “instinctual prowess,” hunting and encompassing finally the power of each piece of music with all their knowledge of artistry and intuitive power that marks great artistic strength.

To return to the music: what deftness in the solemn tone of the lone piano when it blends with a confessional voice and growing darkness as noise in “Black Lake.” “The black lake took and the black lake gave,” sings Hval and Wallumrød in tandem before a milky washout of vibrant, piercing noise and sound.

All is meshing quite well and, what’s more, the flawless transition between tracks is creating something completely of its own.

A beautiful transition of voice occurs as “O Sun O Medusa” becomes “A Mirror in My Mouth,” and it’s not limited to Hval from Wallumrød. The mesh of an acoustic guitar picking the same opening notes as the piano that introduced “O Sun O Medusa” did in its own strong and clean voice, bridges the songs, musically, in such a way that the only audible degree of separation between the two tracks is evidenced by the technical change of singers, contributing grandly to the album’s feeling of organic wholeness. The two different instruments are speaking the same language, each of course with their own voice.

And though songs and words tie and overlap each other, that’s not to say that Meshes of Voice is just one great big song. More is to be heard, and the listener will rise with the album’s distinctive high marks as each line or sound presented differently from the murky depths of the work surge to the fore.

Hear a surge of sound wild in clash of drone and heavy layers infuse itself with a dominant voice unchained and steadily climbing in Wallumrød’s effectively haunting, powerful and just flat-out tantalizing vocal in “I Have Walked This Body.” Wallumrød belts “A basilica of stone / Waiting waiting for skin / I stood on the rims / And carved the tree rings in,” laying extreme emphasis on the last words of each line, her forked voice now with twittering syllables shining as brightly as the splayed tail of a red-tailed comet.

Behind the dominant drone of layered voices—such as those calling one to “Come on and be swallowed” in “I Have A Darkness” —and the dark and noisy gashes in the album’s body, elsewhere is a less harrowing, though nonetheless moving, listening experience. In this arena, songs become scenes set on the black lake where Hval and Wallumrød embrace darkness with eyes to the sun, sing: “Oh I need the fire / The rushing of the fire / Release me from the night.”

A unique listening experience that demands complete attention, enjoy Meshes of Voice for all its great power.