Lost Girls’ second album Selvutsletter opens with Jenny Hval waiting for a rental car at an airport. Planes take off and land. A bell chimes in the distance, like the ringing of a railroad crossing. Amid this buzz of transportation, Hval is sitting still, thinking. Waiting is something she’s “very good at.” A bloom of synths summons both the calm, antiseptic environment of an airport and the feeling of being trapped. Every now and then Hval lets loose an astonishing high note, flaying her voice bare with vocal fry, as if rebelling against the bloodlessness of her surroundings. But the car never comes. She vaguely resolves to cure her fear of flying, but the song ends with the singer in the same place she began, bemused by the “choreography of living.”
The pleasures of the Norwegian duo’s style are all there on “Timed Intervals,” not least the thrill of hearing Hval disappear into her own mind, coming up with connections that make a surreal sense (she compares the planes ascending and descending to a “creature inhaling and exhaling”). But while the 10-minute-plus epics that until now have been a hallmark of the Lost Girls project moved linearly, the songs on Selvutsletter feel circular. The nearly 14-minute “Drive,” from Lost Girls’ debut EP Feeling, also involved a rental car, but that car was actually moving down the highway, mirroring the singer’s journey into her own head. Here, one of Hval’s most memorable lyrics from “Drive” comes to mind: “I rage without moving.”
On Selvutsletter, Hval and multi-instrumentalist Håvard Volden limit themselves to pop-song lengths, with only two tracks exceeding five minutes. The expansive vistas of earlier songs like “Drive” and the title track of 2021’s Menneskekollektivet have shrunk slightly, but within these relatively brief runtimes there’s a wealth of creativity. “Sea White” and “World on Fire” indulge in vast washes of cathedral organs, the latter toggling playfully between drawbars to end on an effect almost like a skipping CD. “Re-entering the City” opens caverns of space between skeletal drums and eventually dissolves into a wash of ambient sound. Lost Girls love scratchy drum machines, scratchier guitars, and huge billowing house chords that seep into songs like ominous industrial fumes.
With less time per song for guided tours of her mind, Hval instead focuses on remembering or imagining how something felt a long, long time ago. She skips around in time, speaking directly to the listener, letting them know it’s 1996 or 1998—the years when Hval got her start as a performer singing with the goth-metal band Shellyz Raven. “With the Other Hand” takes us into the kind of dimly lit dive bar where Hval undoubtedly played dozens of shows early in her career, while “June 1996” plunges headlong into the era, adroitly replicating the kind of sincere and faintly grungy pop song a lot of people were making at that time. On “Re-entering the City,” she goes further back, visiting a park and “smelling” years of history. “People demonstrated here in the ’50s,” she whispers, like the kid from The Sixth Sense.
Hval consistently sings throughout Selvutsletter, only intermittently veering into the spoken word that’s long been a hallmark of her work. Sometimes, her English words slip into Norwegian, or even into glossolalia. As with previous Lost Girls releases, Hval has made the deliberate decision not to include a lyric sheet. It might have been superfluous with Feeling or Menneskekollektivet, on which Hval enunciated her lyrics with the precision of a nature-documentary narrator. But on Selvutsletter the words are often challenging to make out. What, exactly, is in ruins? Did she say “gardening dog?”
This blurriness makes it difficult to follow the narrative threads from the beginning of one song to the end, but certain lyrics stick out as sharply as a hypnotist’s suggestion. “You step out of the car,” Hval says at the beginning of first single “With the Other Hand,” leading us across the street, into a bar, and up onto the stage, where she is already performing. To anyone who’s spent enough time in small venues, a rush of tactile associations floods in: the tenebrous light, the stench of beer and cigarettes, the boisterous chatter drowning out the music on the jukebox.
It seems significant that “Timed Intervals” ends with Hval waiting for a car and “With the Other Hand,” the very next song, begins with a command to step out of one. Hval has long since graduated from playing in bars like the one she describes. Are we stepping out of the car and into the past, perhaps the mythical late ’90s to which Hval returns again and again? Lost Girls is named for a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie in which three great heroines of fantasy literature—Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Alice of Wonderland—meet as adults and share their most disturbing and erotic memories. On Selvutsletter, Hval slips into rabbit hole after rabbit hole, and all we can do is follow her down.
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