By Ziggy Merritt
There have been only a few occasions in my life where I can honestly say I’ve been completely baffled. One of those few occasions happened this Tuesday at the Jenny Hval and Briana Marela gig at Boot & Saddle where I learned how awkwardness and unabashed sexuality come together to form something brutish, solitary, and while definitely discomforting, revelatory.
Predictably things headed off to a bit of a late start yet the eventual entrance of Seattle-native Marela smoothed over any rising tension to captivate with her ethereal, expertly constructed layers of vocal loops. This undercut a bit of the soft if sweet in-between dialogue that Marela mustered as she worked through much of her 2015 release All Around Us. Much of her performance was filled with a tender and heartfelt exuberance that did not go unappreciated by the audience who swayed blissfully along with her rhythm. “Dani” and “I Don’t Belong To You” came off as the most earnest and powerful of her cuts that night with the latter building and blending into something otherworldly via Marela’s impressive range.
Yet as soft-spoken and melodious as Marela might have been, Hval was simultaneously at her strongest and most vulnerable in her visualization of the recent release of Apocalypse, girl. As a traffic cone and a partially inflated fitness ball came onstage I somehow knew my night was going to take a turn into the twisted, suburban version of Wonderland that seemed to fit the aesthetic of her recent album and the following performance. Appropriately Hval was joined onstage by the backdrop of her two Apocalypse Girls who reveled in Hval’s self-described “housewife slumber party”, each complemented with smocks, aprons, cheap wigs, and fake blood. But as off-putting as a housewife slumber party might be to some people, Hval sought to raise my expectations for what can be considered avant-garde without approaching the disingenuous realm of ostentation.
Sure enough the performance did include such over-the-top notions, but combined with the whisper-to-a-scream approach that became much of that night’s proceedings I had begun to develop an appreciation for what Hval was willing to exhibit. It was something of an exploration through the full range of human emotion from her morose version of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” -additionally sung in tastefully poor fashion by her Apocalypse Girls- to the disjointed, part-spoken word piece of “Drive.” All thought pieces, leading up to Hval’s most accessible single “The Battle Is Over”, had a taste of that same discomfort I mentioned near the beginning. Hval treads between the taboo concepts of human sexuality to the troubling dystopia of a capitalist hellhole while exuding an intensity that stays with her captive audience long after her final bows.