Anybody a fan of hers? She's a Swedish electropop/art pop artist who had a bit of buzz in the mid 00s. Her latest two albums, 2018's EXORCISM and 2019's TRAUMA, are among the best albums of the 10s for me, with EXORCISM the favorite for my album of the decade.
Here are my reviews:
Simply put, Exorcism is simultaneously one of the most thrilling and unsettling albums I have ever heard. It is thrilling due to the layers upon layers of synthesizers that create a vibrant atmosphere worthy of the amazingly striking album cover. It is unsettling due to the dark subject matter of male sexual violence and the long-lasting impact it has. Where other artists like Robyn and Annie thrive at crafting songs about heartache and heartbreak set to club-ready dance anthems, Exorcism extends the pain further with a set filled with supremely danceable slices of thumping electropop. This may seem like an odd combination, but the singular atmosphere it creates is potently effective.
With an album with such a strong concept, the lyrical aspects are key to its success. A thread of sexual and emotional abuse weaves throughout the album, creating a harrowing narrative. The first four songs chronicle her character being raped and her subsequent feelings of shame ("Rapin*"), eagerness to tell people the gruesome details ("Lo' Hi'"), grappling with how to identify the perpetrator and wondering who or what to blame ("Disrespect Is Universal"), and rage at her sense of helplessness ("The Prediction"). The next three songs appear to detail a subsequent relationship, her initial hesitation but optimistic hope that she can transform herself ("It Hurts") leading to emotional abuse and religious judgement ("Your Angry Bible"), ending in an all-our war to purge pent-up demons fostered through years of physical and sexual violence ("Exorcism"). Penultimate song "It's Love (And I'm Scared)" sees her questioning why she turns to love when she gets afraid, and hyper-emotional album closer "Forever Is a Long Time" sees her seeking companionship from someone who would tell her everything will be ok, despite the jaded pessimism and dread of the future that has overtaken her.
To capture the horror, rage, fear, desperation, and dejected sorrow of the narrative, Jenny and co-producer Johannes Berglund fill the songs with an army of synthesizers both dizzying and delicate and beats both propulsive and sedate as needed to paint the picture in bold relief. The gauzy, harsh opening synths of "Rapin*" grow more frantic and wobbly throughout the song, capturing the overwhelming loss of control the song paints, before a slower, higher-pitched, three-note synth refrain adeptly captures the horror of it all toward the end. "Lo' Hi'" is a wild club thumper with booming, warped synths percolating with increasing menace as the song progresses. "The Prediction" and "Exorcism" burst into fiery cauldrons with a multitude of synths and furious beats swirling into a raging inferno, while the synths in the gorgeous "It Hurts" and "It's Love (And I'm Scared)" sparkle with requisite vulnerability. Closer "Forever Is a Long Time" begins as a reclusive, resigned shell before the pace quickens and the synths swell like quivering church organs into a spellbinding display of arpeggiating fireworks during the hyper-charged emotional chorus. This combination of the lyrical torment and appropriately glaring production makes for a set of songs that are as fully saturated and demanding of your attention as the cover art promises.
Taken as a whole, the album feels most akin to The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens. In both albums, every instrument feels like a weapon being wielded in a battle for the artists' lives. In the case of Exorcism, the synths often have a rough texture, like rippled icicles so cold that they leave burn marks. Unlike The Age of Adz, Exorcism tells its tale in a whirlwind 39 minutes, giving it immense replay value. While Jenny Wilson's other albums offer lots of different flavors of treats, this rainbow sherbet of an album is unquestionably my favorite. I have great admiration for the bravery she displays in shining such a bright light on the agony that accompanies the events this album depicts, but it should come as no surprise from someone who has beaten breast cancer twice. An absolute artistic triumph from start to finish.
On the heels of the scalding, mind-blowing experience of EXORCISM, Jenny Wilson treads the same thematic terrain in its sister album Trauma, her first sung in her native Swedish. Jenny confessed that in her life, she had associated the Swedish language with lullabies in her youth, and that she felt she needed English (the "language of rock and roll") to convey the messages in her music. This makes her choice of Swedish here feel deeply personal and intimate, and it is to the album's credit.
While EXORCISM managed to foster an uneasy tension between the overarching theme of the rape she experienced a few years prior and a soundscape consisting of club-thumping, irresistible beats and fluorescent synths, Trauma meshes her electronic sound with orchestral grandeur courtesy of collaborators Hans Ek and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. This makes the experience all the more grand, feeling like a feast for the senses, a sort of stage play through which Jenny can shine a light onto her trauma. Through 8 songs, she gives life to the conflicting emotions that define the experience for her: her righteous anger battling with her self-blame and doubt, the strength she finds in telling her story fighting with her feelings of fading into nothingness.
The album starts with a bang. "Göra Saken Värre" sets the stage quite literally, opening with delicate strings and woodwinds giving way to a drum machine as Jenny recounts the injustice of getting something she never asked for. The song builds into a storm with a heavy synth bass propelling a danceable rhythm as Jenny grows more animated in her delivery, the orchestral swells adding great dramatic flare. In "Vem Är Rädd För Vem?", Jenny finds strength in her newfound voice in these matters, taunting her rapist and insisting that he must now be afraid of her in a thrilling flip of the script: "You were my worst nightmare, but now I'm haunting you, your poison has made me dangerous, because I'm writing about my trauma" she decrees as thunderous orchestral storms and skittering synths ignite around her. Completing the opening trifecta is the particularly spellbinding "Säg Vad Som Hände". It starts off plaintive, with piano and strings tugging at heartstrings as the words flow tenderly from Jenny like opulent pearls, gradually building as she mournfully recounts feeling betrayed by the moon and stars that were shining on the night of her rape. The song then erupts in volcanic, pulsing electronic fury 2 minutes in, Jenny's lyrics now gushing forth at full roar like dragon's breath as she relays the horrors of what happened to her, repeatedly urging herself to "say what happened" and likening herself to an ancient dragon awakened in rage while the full orchestra takes flight. The song retreats again into vulnerable tenderness, twinkling xylophones glistening like stars and eerie strings filling the night sky with fog, her repeated insistence of "say what happened" now marked with devastating sadness. The song closes with an instrumental flurry, the adrenaline-pumping electronic pulse taking hold once more before subsiding into eerie reverie. The word "epic" has had its meaning bludgeoned to death from overuse, but it is an appropriate descriptor here. "Säg Vad Som Hände" is so grandiose, so visual, so spectacularly all-encompassing that it feels like a stage play unto itself within the larger theatre of the album.
The album then shifts into slower, sadder territory, as Jenny openly wonders whether she could have prevented this violence and hatred forced upon her in "Kunde Jag (Ha Hindrat Dig)", while the instrumental "08-616 46 70", named after an emergency phone number for raped women in Sweden, rumbles like a disquieting interlude from the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands. The following "Händelseförloppet" is a harrowing, spoken-word retelling of all of the details of her rape. The details are gruesome: starting from an innocuous night out drinking with friends who then go to a packed rave with thumping music (which makes EXORCISM's soundscape all the more harrowing in retrospect) before she loses sight of her friends and decides to go home. She approaches a taxi but felt the driver looked unreliable (how she must tear herself up over that decision), opting instead for the subway, feeling wobbly from the effects of the night. There, a guy says she shouldn't be alone and says he was going the same direction as her. She drifts off in the subway, waking up when her stop was announced on the speakers. She and her attacker get off the subway, and he suggests that he walk her to her door, and suddenly they are on her couch, and she wonders how this could happen. He flips her over on the couch and takes off her pants as she is frozen, lying still. She feels his weight on her as he covers her mouth with one hand while opening his fly with the other. He then proceeds to rape her, twice saying "I can't help it" as she suffers motionless, hearing the air squeezed out of her lungs as he finishes and the early rays of the morning start to appear. While pieces of this narrative populate other songs on this album and EXORCISM, the cold, full retelling here with the unnerving orchestral backdrop makes it the most chilling of them all.
A short, plaintive instrumental "Förvandlingen" precedes the closing "Jag Finns Inte Mer", a profoundly sad and unsettling closer in which she describes the way her memory of the attack makes her physically tense up and suffer from stomachache. Worse still, she feels an almost out-of-body lifting (or sinking) as she wonders "Is there even a Jenny Wilson left?" before concluding "I'm no longer here".
Throughout her career, Jenny Wilson has crafted enthralling music that extends across a broad palette of art pop. And while her earlier albums are well worthy of exploration, it is the potency that she has found with EXORCISM and now Trauma that makes her one of the most important artists of the decade, a hero to women and men alike for her courage and ability to turn her lowest moment into the most beautiful, powerful, life-changing artistic statements. Bravo, Jenny. Bravo!