Jenny Hval Credit: Jenny Berger Myhre

After exploring her experimental side with the strong 2015 album Apocalypse, Girl, Norwegian singer Jenny Hval made another artistic turn with last year’s Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones), her prettiest and most accessible effort to date. But with Hval nothing is quite as it seems—her philosophical probing routinely undercuts song conventions. In interviews she’s spoken of Blood Bitch‘s twin motifs, menstrual blood and vampirism, but on the album itself she goes much deeper: in “Female Vampire,” for example, she protests her subjugation to male scrutiny (“I must justify my presence by losing it / Must not keep a steady gaze”), and as the album unfolds she embraces menstruation as a form of power. Songs are rarely direct and usually loaded with theoretical and literary references; the poppiest and most irresistible track, “Conceptual Romance,” is a hat tip to the experimental Chris Kraus novel I Love Dick, and “Period Piece” quotes a Caroline Bergvall performance piece and plays with its own title (“Failed every period / Did baroque badly / Afraid of blood”). I won’t pretend to get all that Hval is presenting here, but at the album’s core there seems to be an open dialogue questioning binary divisions—in the spheres of gender, morality, and politics in particular. She communicates as effectively as she ever has thanks to the record’s pop savvy; Norwegian noise artist Lasse Marhaug coproduced. And Hval’s performances, which often feature her collaborators dancing and dressed in a series of perverse costumes, raise still more questions.   v