On the edges and sometimes in the center of Jenny Hval's provocative avant-pop music, there's always been a bold vulnerability. The Norwegian musician constantly pushes the form, herself and her audience to examine complacency and identity, culminating in 2016's noisy, synth-driven Blood Bitch.
But with the first single from The Practice of Love, Hval indulges some comfort food. With a delicate sheen of trance-lite pop — the kind of rainy-night nostalgia heard on late-night Top-40 radio in the mid-'90s — "Ashes to Ashes" looks back to early Robyn, Everything But the Girl and Sophie B. Hawkins' still oh-so-good "As I Lay Me Down" as sonic and spiritual guides.
Hval must know that those airy hits of yesteryear contained a darkness within, lonely meditations decorated by arpeggiated synths. "She had this dream about a song," she sings, setting the tone. "She was certain that it was about a burial, the ritual beautifully written / Even the groove was filled with sadness."
Even in her newfound sweetness, there's a yearning to "put two fingers in the earth," dig her own grave "in the honeypot" and find her mortality.
The Practice of Love comes out Sep. 13 via Sacred Bones.