This image is the official album cover for “Classic Objects” from Jenny Hval's website.

Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval has always dabbled in the celestial. Across an impressive catalog of 15 album and EP releases since 2006, the prolific experimentalist has mastered the art of dreamy instrumentals anchored in cutting social commentary. On her most recent venture, Classic Objects, Hval approaches these old elements with a deeper kind of introspection. Amongst all the project’s otherworldly twinkles and pulses, Hval dissects the earthly problems of being a human and an artist.  

Although Classic Objects is teeming with swelling synths and dissonant vocal trills, Hval’s musings about life are not always pretty. On the opener, “Year of Love,” she sings about the time that she witnessed a marriage proposal mid-performance and was left grappling with her own relationship to the institution for weeks afterward. Hval sings, “‘It’s just for contractual reasons,’ I explained / Signing the papers / As if I truly believed that a contract was further / From the institution than the industrial happiness complex.” Here, Hval is trying to reckon her marriage and beliefs on patriarchy and sexual liberation, themes that permeate much of her discography.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Hval is somewhat less harsh about her marital status, stating, “The older you get, the more complicated your life is, because you’ve done this and you’ve done that, anything could be (unearthed) to invalidate everything you say, and there’s something great about that, I think. You don’t make sense anymore.” Although critical of the way in which marriage can mechanize romance on “Year of Love,” Hval’s own marriage represents one of these moral complications that come with age. By the song’s close, she doesn’t attempt to make sense of these apparent contradictions in her life as much as she seems to make peace with them. We, as humans, are full of contradictions and messy moments, something Hval emphasizes throughout the project. 

On “American Coffee,” a lush ballad of organ and clinking drums, Hval sings about the path to her present artistry, and, on a slightly less romantic note, a one-time affliction with a UTI. She talks about watching the 1928 French film “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc,” commiserating with a suffering Jeanne on-screen and subsequently peeing blood in the theater lobby. Hval shares, “And I felt I crossed paths with a version of me / A concept, you could say, but not she who stayed behind / She who quit everything, music and identity / Just left a little blood behind,” digging into her own layered personhood. Hval’s discussions of bodily fluids and identity crises perfectly encapsulate Classic Object’s unflinching examination of what it means, physically and emotionally, to exist.

The track “Cemetery of Splendour” dips into themes of mortality and nature with similar transparency. Named after an ambient 2015 Thai film centered around a group of soldiers afflicted with a mysterious sleeping sickness, Hval’s work feels comparably dreamlike with the addition of spoken word. A mainstay in many of her past projects, these observations paint a picture of the artist’s surroundings: pine cones, slugs, gum wrappers and cigarette butts all pointed out to the listener with childlike rapture. These considerations dissolve into thunderstorms and cricket songs by the track’s close, capturing yet another dimension of human sensation in the context of the natural world. Hval reasserts that she’s alive on “Cemetery of Splendour,” roaming amongst the passive traces of life in candy wrappers and active reminders of it in garden slugs.

“Jupiter,” an incandescent and off-kilter album highlight, embraces ideas of the environment in the context of the desolate American desert. Hval places us first at the Prada Marfa art installation in West Texas, a nod to the tugs of materialism that remain pervasive in a capitalist society and her own feelings of being an “abandoned project.” In the music video for the track, Hval buys a pair of heels and a Prada purse from the peculiar storefront, which are later buried in the dirt at the song’s climax. Instead, Hval hops on a hot air balloon, the planet Jupiter looming in the distant sky as she flies to freedom from the acidic tumult of the desert below. 

It’s this vivid imagination and keen knowledge of human sensation that makes Classic Objects so beautiful. Hval toys with ideas of artistic freedom on the closing track, “The Revolution Will Not Be Owned,” singing, “This song is regulated by copyright regulations / And dreaming doesn’t have copyright.” Yet Hval has found agency by simply expressing the many moving parts of her existence with intense honesty and ingenuity. Classic Objects is an expansive examination of what makes us human, not always trying to come to a clear conclusion but still transfixed with the process of understanding ourselves. 

Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at