And just like that we’re talking about sexual abuse and assault. Up front, out loud and mostly without recourse to metaphor. If pretty much the entire history of western art and culture has been stories of romantic love in one form or another, as conceived by men, then the last six months mark something of a revolution. An answer to the ‘But what about the stories?” question second-wave feminists asked, when they wondered how a system saturated in narrative sexism could ever be overcome.
In the video for the lead single (‘Rapin*’) from Swedish artist Jenny Wilson’s new record, ‘Exorcism’, her violent assault is depicted in gently explicit cartoon form, her body torn apart by an attacker as she is chased through a nightmare. Broken, bleeding and cut in half she collapses among the mountains, huge and broken, reliving her ordeal. Its impact is all the more poignant, coming as it does in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements – right when we are all exploring how we have been abused and exploited by a predatory sexual culture, where women’s bodies are fair game.
The album itself is an unflinching account of Wilson’s rape and its aftermath. Set to the drones of a Prophet 6 analogue synthesiser it sounds as if it is pulling at Wilson’s pain and rage — drawing her trauma out, slowly, like a magnet. While ‘Rapin*’ recounts the attack, subsequent tracks detail her attempt to make sense of and move on from it. On ‘Lo’ Hi’, for example, she shares the secret memories that linger long after the physical assault is finished (‘His left hand shut me up / Listen close: I said no’); set to a bouncing, rhythmic instrumental it’s a frantic, emotional celebration of survival. On ‘Disrespect is Universal’ Wilson draws attention to the structures that create a culture where rape and assault are normalised (‘Could be any guy,’ she sings, ‘Blame the society’). Meanwhile, ‘It Hurts’ and ‘It’s Love (And I’m Scared)’ recount her attempts to reconnect in intimate relationships after the violation.
‘Exorcism’ is bold and direct, building on the artist’s history of writing through personal turmoil (her previous record, the award-winning ‘Demand the Impossible!’ was recorded and released while she underwent treatment for breast cancer). Giving this kind of work a mark out of ten seems beside the point, so I haven’t. That doesn’t mean I think it’s any thing other than essential listening.