Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden’s debut as Lost Girls, Menneskekollektivet, was an exercise in polishing an inherently rough object. Hval’s albums often demand your attention for the sake of hearing every word she sings, or else you might miss part of the plot. So much weight is given to her lyrics and delivery that you can’t rest for a second, but Menneskekollektivet was a respite from that responsibility. While the Norwegian duo had collaborated for a decade as live performers, their first full album together (their work as Nude on Sand notwithstanding) was their appreciation for the art of performing. Club beats formed their compositions’ backbones, but it was in-studio improvisation that filled the veins and attached muscles to tendons. It was a chance for the duo to forget songwriting and emphasize expression.
Their follow-up, Selvutsletter, retains much of that spirit, but sees the duo improving their overall craft. It’s free from the hefty track lengths of its predecessor and this format better suits Hval’s vocal and lyrical style. The latter is steeped in short stories rife with anecdotes and characters while the former routinely evolves from a whisper to a yelp over a track’s course. Anyone familiar with her solo work recognizes how meticulously plotted she sounds while maintaining an air of spontaneity. Every second is studied, every track taut. However, her standard approach is largely absent from Selvutsletter, resulting in a less direct but nonetheless penetrating album.
In contrast to their earlier club influence, Lost Girls skew closer to rock on Selvutsletter, but only in the quietest ways. “Ruins” leads with a guitar that should dominate the mix were Hval and Volden not so comfortable with their vision. In their minds, the guitar is only a piece that must exist with the rest of the layers “Ruins” reveals as it progresses. By and large, Selvutsletter follows this framework—tracks add rather than subtract and structures embellish themselves rather than deviate to new forms. There’s a living ecosystem at play, even on minimalist cuts like “World on Fire,” wherein Hval coos without any rhythm backing her, and “Jeg slutter meg selv,” which plays as if Lost Girls turned the volume down so they can silently dance to themselves.
The binding factor between these songs is hushed confidence, a trait Hval makes readily apparent through her loose performance. Despite remaining technically similar to her regular solo outing, her lyrical details are more vague and her presence is calmer. It’s why “June 1996,” whose guitar reminiscences twee indie rock and whose beat sounds like a first draft, can possess so much personality. The track is inconsequential, but acknowledging that only improves it as the realization that “June 1996” has no ambitions allows one to consider it in the way Hval and Volden plotted it—as a connection through creating.
It’d be easy to conclude that Selvutsletter’s purpose is an exercise in collaboration for Lost Girls given how low the stakes are and how far it distances itself from Hval’s usually omnipresent themes. Yet, that’s not completely true, and the title spells that out. The term “selvutsletter” is of Hval and Volden’s creation, and it means “Someone who tries to erase themselves. Someone who is cleaning out themselves. Performing exorcism. Or perhaps just getting older, less interested in their own present self.” The term should signify self-immolation, but the album is entirely without fire. Not only is it icy on an auditory level, but the process through which Lost Girls supposedly erase themselves is detached. For such harsh words, Selvutsletter acts gracefully.
It’s not that Hval and Volden are abandoning themselves or reckoning with old, troubled memories. The album is not so stark, but concerned with the mundane. The memories that play out here are of Hval creating music for the first time, exploring clubs, and other youthful activities. Selvutsletter is about reconsidering tame experiences such as those and burning them like one last ember, not as a celebration, but as a way to clear space for the future. Take how “Jeg slutter meg selv” grows over its near-seven-minute runtime and you’ll notice the same mindset. Its opening minute is disconnected from its dance-centric body. It doesn’t mourn its passing as it was simply a means to the track’s development. The song couldn’t be where it was without it, but it does not have to hold those memories so tightly.
Lost Girls’ willingness to engage with their past and present selves without drawing conclusions is the key to their weightlessness. It’s inarguable that there are no grand developments or revelations here, but those would whittle away at Selvutsletter. Hval and Volden can look at themselves without judgment because Selvutsletter is not a finale. It’s not meant to be a destination so much as a document of a process. Look back to the duo’s definition of “Selvutsletter,” “someone who is cleaning out themselves,” it’s an active verb, one without end, and as all cleaning-related tasks, what is now tidy will become dirty again.
Label: Smalltown Supersound
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Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer with publications at Consequence, Invisible Oranges, Spectrum Culture, and more. There will always be more to write about, and he wants to cover it all.