Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh Susanna!

What a shame that Susanna Wallumrod (this time billed without her Magical Orchestra) has given her first solo album such a laughably pretentious title, for ‘Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos’ is one of 2007’s genuine treasures. It doesn’t veer too far from the Nordic minimalism of her two albums with the Magical Orchestra, and many of the Rune Grammofon collective appear here to give her a helping hand. Helge Sten from Supersilent contributes some essential and subtle guitar parts, whilst the same remarkable improvising group’s Deathprod is responsible for the album’s warm and hypnotic sound. Susanna’s ECM jazz pianist brother Christian also appears on a handful of tracks, emphasising further continuity with the Magical Orchestra albums.

Just like those discs, Susanna’s solo cosmos is a largely percussionless, listless and free-floating musical landscape, but there are some very subtle variations in the approach to arrangements. Sten’s guitar adds warmth and texture, as does the greater range in instrumentation more generally. Equally welcome are the theremin on the opening ‘Intruder’ and the grand piano more frequently deployed throughout.

These twelve hauntingly beautiful songs cover matters of the heart with a disarming directness and insightful charm. Appropriately, Susanna’s voice remains a beacon of understatement and restraint and an instrument that deftly handles these consistently moving melodies. She delivers her words with a precision perfect and delicately unfolding grace that effortlessly matches the gentle undertones of her skeletal accompaniments.

It is precisely because these songs are so rich in nuance and feeling that this atmospheric music never becomes boring. Susanna’s musical backdrops are not merely hypnotic or wistful, but also deeply sensual and sublime. The opening trio of ‘Intruder’, ‘Born In The Desert’ and ‘Hangout’ are among the most strikingly beautiful songs released this year, whilst ‘Better Days’, with its swathes of guitar, points at how Susanna’s trademark sound might be further enhanced and developed.

It’s possible that Susanna’s quiet, pensive and melancholic exploration of emotional tensions might be lost amidst the far more blatant noise and confusion elsewhere. That would be a great shame – because she has much in common with other trailblazing female artists (Nico, Kate Bush, Bjork, Feist etc) in that she operates in her own unique space, completely removed from prevailing trends.

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