“In the beginning, there was no word and no I / In the beginning, there is sound / In the beginning, we create with our mouths.” These are the first words of Menneskekollektivet, the excellent new record from Lost Girls (Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden), and they gesture towards something essential about the album: this is music about texture and creation. Hval and Volden relied on improvisation, with their words and guitar respectively, to produce an abstract 45 minutes of Robert Ashley-ish electronics. That description probably makes the record sound like homework assigned by your friend who watches videos of Onkyo performances online, but the most surprising thing about Menneskekollektivet is that it’s a fun time; an unorthodox album that borders on a million genres and commits to none.
If you’ve already checked out after reading the lyrics above, don’t worry. The words, as generated through improvisation, make little literal sense, and there’s something very Laurie Anderson about it all, as Hval captures something uncannily humanoid and surreal. But there are distinct themes you’d be missing if you didn’t check out of the hypnosis this record puts you under and listen to what she’s saying now and then. Questions of fiction writing, of whether everything we write is fiction because we can’t ever reproduce the truth, or if there are two fictions – the one we are writing and the one we are telling ourselves – swirl throughout. It’s heady, academic stuff, but it’s delivered with some punch. When Hval says “story time,” like a beauty vlogger about to unspool some new drama on YouTube, you can’t help but laugh.
Unlike Hval’s early work, which breathes like Frankenstein’s monster, all bloody seams, Menneskekollektivetis mechanical; the music operates under strict forward movement. These songs hinge on grooves, ambiguous things that invoke krautrock and techno in equal measure. The plush hi-hats that power “Losing Something” sound like Suicide recalibrated themselves for to perform in the Black Lodge. It would all be overwhelmingly menacing if Hval wasn’t singing “I need it more than I need pork, or lamb, or lettuce, or cucumber.” But when her voice multiplies at the end, into a chorus of a million Jennys, the song takes up the entire world.
She’s also just an excellent vocalist. Her spoken-word work is never tedious, and she commands attention with just a whisper. The soprano high notes she adds to the climaxes of these songs help blast them past the ozone and into space proper. Her last solo record, The Practice of Love, clearly gave her the space necessary to rule over dance music, but while that record was all about cheesy 90s euro-trance, Menneskekollektivet is more oblique in its style. I’m reminded of the symphonic washes of Tangerine Dream as much as the aquatics of CAN’s Future Days, as well as the depth of Moodymann. Which is a lot of words to say this record evades categorization. It’s a strange beast, like a sphinx: you can’t tell where one animal begins and where the other ends.
Take “Love, Lovers”, a 15-minute epic that begins as digital cumbia, hinging on a repeated refrain “with each repetition, making me an opposition.” Somewhere in the middle, it becomes a soaring trance song. At the end, it sounds like Goblin’s Suspiria soundtrack, as Hval’s yelps echo into a horrified void. It’s fucking great.
Careful sound work is all over this record. The noisy strums of guitar on “Real Life” punctuating Hval’s words, or the woozing synths that open “Carried by Invisible Bodies”; these are hyper specific in their texture, glassy and subtle in the hands of Volden. When the latter song falls into Latin House rhythms, the whole thing sounds like a club built inside of a Moog. Most of this review has been spent trying to use genre to back the record into a corner, but there is still so much ineffable that can’t be captured in words. Menneskekollektivet is impossible to pin down. That’s the thrill.