Album Review: Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs

Editor's Review


Arm yourself with this album and see that they do not win!

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Susanne Sundfør has a voice that insists upon stymying all of my attempts to describe it. Whilst traces of it can be found in the bird-like florescence of Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, or Alison Goldfrapp of the duo that bears her surname, these associations fall short, and only serve to convey the gravity of her originality, like pale clues to a crime of such mystery, that the full atrocity of it will only be appreciated many centuries after the event. Like a celestial eel, her Neptunian vocals dart hither and thither, warding me off with addictive, thrilling shocks every time I get too close to grasping it.

Ten Love Songs is the latest album by this Norwegian Pisces, and her greatest since her 2010 release, The Brothel. Though the title may be somewhat perfunctory and utilitarian in its descriptiveness, the music is anything but: a record of whirling majesty and surprise, Susanne has described it has her attempt to make a mainstream, pop album. That might sound like a strange thing for an artist to openly admit, but in making ‘Ten Love Songs’, Sundfør was seeking to capture the emotional directness that only a pop song can deliver. Experimentation and avant-gardism is all very well if you want intellectual stimulation, but when you want to be moved, simplicity and vulnerability are the key. Using it thus to unlock our hearts, Susanne seamlessly blends 80’s style electro pop with music from the European classical tradition to form a marriage that readily scuppers even the most morbid of divorce rate statistics.

Combining the airy addictability of Pop with the gravitas of chamber music composed for a dead monarch, listening to ‘Ten Love Songs’ is like hearing ABBA played at an outdoor funereal in the pouring rain, or being able to synaesthetically hear the colours a rainbow produces after its been assassinated by a film noir star, and processed by Robby The Robot from The Forbidden Planet. Unpredictable, the album begins with ‘Darlings’ – an impactive overture  for lone voice and harmonium, it readies the listener for an experience of real force; moving therefrom to the throbbing programmed drums and menacing New-Wave synthesizers of ‘Accelerate’ – a song so infectious, it should probably be avoided by all listeners with severely compromised immune systems – cinematic and dark, it has a surprise Bach Church Organ insertion half way through, only adding to its tantalizing menace. These are not love songs of sentimentality and gooiness, but vague, haunting blotches of opiate-like pain and numbness, reeking of sexual violence, intrigue, and the type of scarified love that never goes beyond closed doors.

The track that astounds me the most, and continues to bedevil me with its perfume-like mystery and sonatacism, is ‘Memorial’ – a ten minute aural treasure trove , that glistens with beauty. Beginning with a baroque harpsichord, it progresses into a majestic pop song of mournful reminiscences, before taking a symphonic turn, and metamorphosing into a sensitive, film scorish piano concerto, replete with Phillip Glass-style arpeggiation and sprinkled with Mozartian flourishes, bringing me back to it again and again, like a fecund mine, constantly yielding scintillating precious metals. Other great moments include ‘Silencer’, quietly performed on classical guitar, and enwrapped inspiralling synths and strings, it has a Leonard Cohen quality to it, and makes me feel like I’m being told a tragic fairytale whilst aboard a crystalline spaceship – a child’s somnolence in space. ‘Delirium’ is another favourite, as uplifting and danceable as it is sinister.

Susanne has said in interviews that she feels our culture abhors emotional vulnerability and eschews it in favour of encouraging people to be as much like robots as possible. But the art that lingers, the masterpieces that remain, are those that draw us back to our humanity like lodestones of the heart.  With its mixture of the electronic with the acoustic, the emotive with the artificial, the music is evocative of this dilemma – Susanne battling tooth and claw in her solitude against those automatons that would reduce our humanity by stifling us with tranquilizers and tortured apathy. Be a mensch:

Arm yourself with this album and see that they do not win!

Susanne Sundfor – The Brothel on MUZU.TV.

Released on February 16th, Susanne Sundfør will be performing at the Scala in London on March 3rd.

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