Lost Gems: Appletothesky – To Sing You Apple Trees (2006)

Norwegian singer-songwriter, record producer, musician, and novelist, Jenny Hval, is no stranger to experimenting with different soundscapes and approaches when it comes to music. Her album vary between each release in both tones and themes, each one seeming like a newly envisioned concept building on the lyrical world that Hval crafts with an intelligent grace. However, out of all of her discography I found myself resonating towards to particular albums, the slow contemplative spoken pieces of “Apocalypse Girl” and her debut album, under the moniker Rockettothesky, “To Sing You Apple Trees” (Trust Me Records). Today, we will be talking about the latter.

Appletothesky Sing You Apple Trees

As can often be the case with debut albums, “To Sing You Apple Trees” offers the most raw and primitive look into the sounds that Hval would continue to master on subsequent releases. Arguably, the album is the least cohesive of her work, with the music and vocals presented in varying degrees of energy in each track. The track “Cigars” sees the singer focusing on catchy melodies sung with great passion, while tracks like “I Stepped on a Toothbrush” is presented is striped back musically to put forth a more introspective, narrative story – comparable to later stand out tracks like “Take Care of Yourself”.

While it is arguable that the less polished release is not the best representation of the artists abilities, I beg to differ.  “To Sing You Apple Trees” is one of those debut albums that sets the groundwork for a remarkable career to come, and many themes of the early work resonate throughout the rest of Hval’s discography. Notably, the focus on sexuality and the experimental narratives that make her lyrics an immersive experience. Furthermore, those who were able to check out her book “Paradise Rot” will find value in exploring the ‘apple’ in the title, as well as the lyrics on the track “Oh Cherry Tree”. Despite the book being published two years after this release, it appears the concept was already ruminating around the time of working on the album–or inspired by the process itself.

This background is not essential in enjoying the debut from Hval, there are plenty songs that work here without having to search for deeper meaning or relate it to her entire body of work. As mentioned, “Cigars” is a wonderfully upbeat track with a catchy chorus that hooks you right in (even if it is just repeating the songs title). In addition, the song has some of the most expressive vocals on the album, with Hval delivering lines with a boisterous delivery that breaks down into creeks and squeaks in her vocals. The track before Cigars, “Too Many Emmas”, has some beautiful chords and playful lyrics that also offer greater appeal to a general audience–resting somewhere between the folk and pop. 

For those who enjoy more challenging music, tracks like “I Stepped on a Toothbrush” is a narrative focused track with minimal music accompaniment. Another example, “To Where it was Sucked out From”, is a delicate piece with simple, repetitious instrumentation and whispy vocals that, at points, is barely audible. Conversely, the celebration of female sexuality/divinity which is a common theme in later albums is in full force on the song “A Cute Lovesong Please.” A track which opens with Hval singing the questions “When you think of me do you masturbate?”, accompanied by upbeat clapping. Hval has always expressed a comfortableness in exploring sexual themes, and this track (along with others) on “To Sing You Apple Trees” established her as a performer unafraid to approach sexuality and its relationship to our existence.

If you want the most comprehensive understanding as Hval as an artist, it is ideal to explore her entire discography and familiarize yourself with the wide range of experimentation that changes from album to album. However, I do believe that “To Sing The Apple Tree” will always exist as a standout in the artist discography and is certainly worthy of re-discovery. It contains some of my favorite tracks Hval has ever spun, and its inconsistency in tone can actually play in favour if the listener is looking for a more eclectic audio experience.

At the time of writing this, Jenny Hval is preparing for the release of her latest album “Classic Objects” (4AD). Check out the single “Year of Love”. The difference in production and style from the first album is apparent, yet one of the greatest charms of Hval as a musician is that the music is always, distinctly hers.

 

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