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It begins with a question and ends in understanding. "Did you learn nothing in America?" Jenny Hval asks. Who this question is directed at is unclear, it could be us - the audience - it could be the artist herself, the question remains unanswered as Hval reports what she found, or more accurately didn't. "I found no subculture / no future," it's a melancholic opening, one that hints at the apocalypse referenced in the title of Hval's latest record. This is how the world ends...

Sonically this might be the quietest record of Hval's career, shuffling percussion meeting ambient field recordings, soft organ sounds and undulating waves of drone. It's a world away from the spiky, violent guitar playing of Innocence Is Kinky and the cataclysmic tones of Meshes of Voice, but the world it creates is in many ways richer, more affecting and bolder than the ones that came before. Apocalypse, girl renders the death of the present with subtlety - a disaster we didn't see coming.

Opening track 'Kingsize' sets the tone for the album, with Hval's spoken word performance flecked with distortion, it's like a lost journal recording - albeit one in which the narrator relies on abstract imagery - providing a glimpse into a world that we recognise, but without context. Hval's rumination on society and womanhood is interspersed with lines about four bananas which rot slowly, their degradation possibly symbolising the decay of the patriarchy, or maybe civilisation as a whole. Around Hval objects clatter and crash, whilst the creaking scrape of Okkyung Lee's cello provides a dissonant, haunting tone, recalling horror movie images of abandoned, derelict buildings. A soft hum, a strangely pleasant sound given what's come before signals the end of the track, hinting at a rebirth.

Whether that rebirth arrives or not is unclear. 'Take Care Of Yourself', which immediately follows offers no answers, but rather presents another question. "What is it to take care of yourself?" Hval asks, before listing various actions that could answer that question - moments like "getting pregnant", "fighting for visibility in your market" and "shaving in all the right places". The mundane, everyday rituals are juxtaposed with life goals, but with no alternatives offered - there is just one path, that is how you take care of yourself. A slow, melancholic synthesiser plays out, looping, soundtracking the weight of expectation forced on women, whilst a distant whining, like an air raid siren, a call to arms, struggles to be heard.

It's fitting then to find lead single 'That Battle Is Over' not far behind. Here we are shown the source of those expectations as Hval assumes different roles, each one finding a way to crush and silence the women which occupy "a million bedrooms". Shuffling percussion and organ chords underscore what Hval describes as a "karaoke of voices", it sets a mellow tone, which underlies the anger and frustration apparent in the delivery of the lyrics. "I am more likely to get breast cancer / and it's biology / it's my own fault / it's divine punishment of the unruly," sings Hval at one point, almost spitting out some of the words, so angry at the ideas she's vocalising. This happens again later in the track's key exchange, "you say I'm free now, that battle is over / and feminism's over / and socialism's over / yeah, I can consume what I want now." The final line is delivered with a mix of sarcasm and disgust, primarily at the idea that freedom constitutes the ability to purchase things. 'That Battle Is Over' reveals itself to be a rhetorical trick, one that serves to silence ideas that challenge the status quo. Shut up and buy shit they say. Hval, struggling to hold back her anger makes clear that'll never be the measure of success in the new world.

One of the key musical takeaways from 'That Battle Is Over' and many of the other tracks on Apocalypse, girl is that whilst it feels mellower in tone, that doesn't mean it lacks the intensity of Innocence Is Kinky or even Viscera. The pacing and overall sound of 'That Battle Is Over' is languorous because the people who have been fighting the great social battles are tiring of fighting the same dumb arguments day in day out. That doesn't mean they're going to give in though and it's telling that Hval drowns the voices out in detuned organs and drones - as it once more hints that change is just around the corner. Apocalypse, girl's strength lies in its ability to create narrative and meaning through the sonic textures. Hval, uses the juxtaposition of pop sensibilities and noise production to set scenes, or provide a climactic sense of battles being won and lost.

The nature of change flows throughout Apocalypse, girl. Songs speak of transformation, with several later tracks seeing Hval and other characters switch gender, or find themselves reborn. Meanwhile the structure of the album, feels like a gradual unfurling - quiet, personal songs that are grounded in reality move into more expansive, far more fantastical tracks as the album progresses. Whilst there isn't a single overarching narrative to the record - and I hesitate to call it a concept album - there is a cinematic quality to the way the album unfolds and slowly reveals itself. The best way of considering Apocalypse, girl is as an anthology of different vignettes - individual songs that share a universe. Themes and ideas repeat themselves, and songs blur into one another. It lends a surrealist edge to the record, whilst providing a cinematic sense of progression. Traditional song structure is often eschewed in favour of making dramatic shifts, such as drowning the voices at the end of 'That Battle Is Over', or the way in which 'Heaven' ascends from ambient field recordings to a noir future of galloping percussion, murmuring bass and crystalline synths - a scene change akin to the famous time-jump in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

'Heaven' actually features two "scene changes" with the final third of the track featuring elegiac strings soaring from behind Hval as she sings of "a graveyard of girls". A tidal wave of noise breaks and spills out over the song and, along with violently plucked strings, destroys everything in its wake until all that remains is Hval singing a cappella. The track is easily one of the record's most thrilling moments, the electronica that makes up the middle of the song, working an infectious rhythm, with a breathless, whispered vocal from Hval near the start that suggests she's in a hurry to share secrets with you. The rest of the song's lyrics recall Hval's experiences of watching gospel girls sing "airy more than necessary". Hval's protagonist runs from this, before appearing to find beauty in the act of devotion practiced by the choir. It's possible that Hval (or at least the song's protagonist) is searching for some sort of spiritual affirmation, that would certainly explain why in the song's climactic final moments, Hval's focus is on bodily death, and the physical form of gravestones - as opposed to any ideas of heaven, or an afterlife.

The influence of religious music - particularly gospel - recurs throughout the album, particularly in the organ sounds of tracks like 'Why This_', whilst the choral vocals and incantations of tracks like 'Angels and Anaemia' and 'Holy Land' refer back to the devotional singing of the gospel girls Hval grew up with. Iconography is also a feature, which is fitting for an apocalypse as so much of our ideas of the end of the world, come from the fire and brimstone doomsday scenarios that seem to be a common feature in most belief systems. In many ways the apocalypse of Hval's record has one final similarity with that of judeo-christian religions, in that it finds a new beginning rising from the devastation that comes with the end.

Apocalypse, girl imagines a world in which the old power structures, capitalism, patriarchy and religion fall and in their place is a consciousness shift, where equality and understanding reign. This idea really comes to the fore on the final trio of tracks in which Hval's characters begin to shift and transform, dreaming themselves into different genders. In both 'Sabbath' and 'Angels and Anaemia' the link between body and identity is seen as malleable, able to change at a moments notice. "But when I touch you I turn you into a girl / only for a moment," Hval sings in a beautiful falsetto on 'Angels and Anaemia'. All we know of this body is that it lacks consciousness, and whilst this may conjure a death-like image, it could simply be a loved one in a deep sleep. The ethereal backing lends a stillness to the track, which could be seen as haunting, but something in Hval's delivery - heartbreaking, yet optimistic - suggests an understanding being reached in the moment that she transforms this unconscious body.

This then flows into the final track 'Holy Land' in which Hval finally answers the question posed in 'Kingsize'. Understanding comes rising from out of droning cello and delicate twinkling vibraphone. It brings the album full circle as Hval intones "I understand why people want be reborn / I understand why people speak in tongues...I understand it in America." Death and rebirth, questions and answers, dissonance and melodiousness make their final movements on the record. Apocalypse, girl deals in big ideas about life and society but does so in a way that that feels intimate and personal. Most of this stems from Hval's continued use of the first person, which allows us to feel as though we are gazing into the life of the singer, even in the record's more abstract moments - perhaps more so for the psychological insight they grants us. Yet despite these songs initially starting life as personal experiences, theres something universal about the perspective and ideas offered. The inclusion of opposing voices and surrealistic imagery reminds us too that whilst personal and relatable, art doesn't have to be grounded in reality to mean something.

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