Blood - it flows through us all and yet there has long been a taboo around it, especially when it is shed naturally. Back in March 2015, Instagram twice-deleted a photograph uploaded by Rupi Kaur which depicted a fully-clothed woman lying on a bed, her sheets and clothing stained with menstrual blood. It was deemed to be against the community guidelines, despite the fact they didn’t mention anything of the sort. It was as though menstruation was implicitly taboo, and it’s not hard to see why. Rarely is the subject discussed, with a plethora of euphemisms dispatched to refer to something which affects half of the population on a regular basis. Myths date back to ancient times that connect periods to original sin, magic and madness.

Blood Bitch, the latest album from Jenny Hval takes menstruation as a central theme and connects it with another myth linking women to blood - that of the vampire. There blood represented a feral, sexual desire, with stories often featuring a woman letting go of her senses at the release of warm crimson. There’s a cyclic and transformative element to both subjects and this is what Hval explores.

“Transient, restless,” Hval sings on ‘Female Vampire’, over driving synths and a motorik rhythm section that seems to suggest the instrumental is in its own state of limbo. Throughout Hval appears to be reaching for something, though what that something is seems unclear. Forms and shapes shift and change “in and out of focus” - all that’s clear is the body. Physicality provides an anchoring point, linking this song back to previous ideas Hval has explored on record; most notably on ‘Angels and Anaemia’, in which the gender of a body was transformed through touch. In that instance the transformation was one of optimistic - if fleeting - hope. On Blood Bitch transformation and transience is treated as something akin to a fugue state. A “holding pattern” if you will.

Throughout the record confusion reigns. On ‘Conceptual Romance’ Hval struggles to define herself and her relationship with an unspecified other, whilst on ‘Untamed Region’ time and place seems to dilate and change at random. One moment the singer is in a house, next a hotel. There’s blood on the bed, and she’s confused (“Didn’t know it was time yet”). The instrumentals are perfectly matched to these uncertain states, Hval telling as much of the story and thematic ideas through audio cues as she does lyrics. The ambient synths and steady, galloping bass of ’Conceptual Romance’ give the song a weightlessness which, matched with Hval’s vocal, give a sense of floating free from earthly concerns. Romance is conceptual, abstract, a thing to be examined at a distance and the vocal performance and instrumental both reinforce that.

‘Untamed Region’, meanwhile, is harder to pin down. A slow, haunting synthesizer melody plays out underneath Hval’s choral vocals, whilst in the distance we hear what sounds like someone scribbling and cars passing by. The voice of documentary-maker Adam Curtis floats in talking about uncertainty - the sample refers to the way politicians use it to counter arguments, which makes Hval’s own uncertainty seem even more existential. ‘Untamed Region’ is where Hval’s blurring of experimentation and pop is most pronounced. The quiet instrumental draws parallels to the soundtracks of 70s horror movies, with the melodious synthesizer and choral vocals drawing the listener in as much as Hval’s whispered spoken word. ‘In The Red’, which serves as a kind of coda to ‘Female Vampire’, takes an even more experimental bent, consisting of rapid breathing over whirring synthesizers. The result is a hypnotic, if also dizzying soundscape.

Blood Bitch sees Hval re-united with Lasse Marhaug, with the two sharing production duties. Marhaug, is arguably more in his element here with Hval embracing noise and drone more than she has on any previous record. It makes Blood Bitch an interesting step forward from previous record Apocalypse, girl. It takes the guilty, ominous tone of that record and transforms it into something transcendent. The dreamy synthesizers of ‘The Great Undressing’ exemplify this feeling. Much like in ‘Conceptual Romance’, there’s a sense of weightlessness. We feel like visitors, drifting through vignettes of another life. This starts with Hval and a friend discussing the subject of the album, and ends with Hval whispering, each line alternating between left and right channels, creating an intimacy that is devoid of time and place.

Time becomes further distorted by ‘The Plague’ as a multitude of sounds and samples barrage the ears. From middle-eastern percussion, to random TV shows and Hval’s wail of “I don’t know who I am.” ‘The Plague’ embraces dissonance to create a sound world that feels strange, and confrontational. It’s not like channel-surfing, but rather waking up abruptly in a dozen different nightmares. “Keep that birth under control,” we are told at one point, adding oppression to the horror that awaits.

As with all natural cycles, we ultimately return to where we began. ‘Secret Touch’ takes us back to the subject to physicality; Hval pretends that someone’s holding her hand. We are told that touch ensures that she feels alive, real, grounded. Much of Blood Bitch has seen our narrator lost, or in some confusion. Here she begins to seem certain, if only for a short moment. By the time the final track, ‘Lorna’, arrives the cycle has begun again. Desire and blood return. Can we describe it this time? Can we define it before we are lost again? This is what Hval asks of us. This is what Hval wants us to discuss.