Adventurous listeners who can hear the word "experimental" without running for the hills would do well to give Norwegian singer/songwriter Jenny Hval's new one a spin. Innocence Is Kinky, her fourth album, challenges the audience time and again by eschewing the traditional notions of song structure. While the components of the album's 10 songs come from the pop palette, she arranges them into complex, less-traditional pieces that evoke the likes of Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson.
Exploration of mediated interactions seems central to her effort. From the opening line, in which she describes the act of viewing pornography online, Hval shocks by wryly describing the seemingly mundane. In doing so, she finds menace. "Nobody can see me looking, anyway," she whispers, as though disappointed that her voyeurism cannot be quantified.
Though her words, spoken and beautifully sung, sound like they are arriving across a wire, they hit the ear with jarring intimacy, prickling the hairs on the neck. Throughout, Hval's vocals segue into pitched warbles, which steady themselves to become tones of such sonic purity that their human origin must be questioned.
Scared yet? Don't be. Sure, it is easier to imagine hearing these songs as part of an installation, echoing off the pristine walls of an otherwise silent gallery, than it is to imagine them as background noise to daily routine. But, while Innocence Is Kinky asks a lot, it pays out in equal measure, thanks to Hval's confident execution. Though the songs are fragmented in their arrangement, the disparate parts shimmer with traditional sonic beauty and studio polish.