Susanne Sundfør has never made predictable music. Her last few albums like The Silicone Veil have carried a hefty sense of cinematic depth through tonnes of intricate electronics and synth work, along with masterful composition. Carrying melodies and thematic inspiration from her native Norway with more acoustic instrumentation for this latest record, she lets her heavy sound work creep in slowly. While it may not be exactly what fans are expecting, it will please anyone thanks to her amazing song writing. ‘
Ditching her signature synths for a sparse and intimate intro, “Mantra” cuts through with guitar and some echo-laden vocals. The heartwarming vocals empower listeners and the guitar carries a light tinge of Spanish influence to make a magical song that strays from Sundfør’s usual fare. Taking tones of Johnny Cash in her driven guitar line, “Reincarnation” finds Sundfør starting to blend her keyboards with the more rustic guitar sounds. Carrying the emotion of the song between her vocals and a strong but not cheesy load of slide guitars, she really lets her sound find itself within the more Western tones.
“Good Luck Bad Luck” does start a little too sparse and simple for a Sundfør song but finds her starting to twist the melodies into darker and more atypical grounds the further it creeps along. After a dynamic drop, a jazz section comes back in to close the song on a mix of saxophone, double bass and drums that would fit perfectly in an episode of Twin Peaks. Bending bird sounds into electronic blips, “The Sound Of War” finds Sundfør’s warm and dynamic vocals hitting their most wide and high. Bringing in a hefty bass in the second verse, the track starts to hit harder before descending into throaty moments. With the synths starting to roar, we hear the sounds of war themselves through pounding drums, heavy synth bass and throttling but muffled gun fire.
As a digital body comes to life on “Music For People In Trouble” the strange spoken-word meditation on life feels strangely foreign in the musical atmosphere. Switching up and down sounds like a computer scanning through styles of music the track is an odd but mystifying concept. “Bedtime Story” strolls into more classic grounds for Sundfør as a dark but captivating piano ballad. Where the song truly innovates in her body of work is the strange sonic storytelling, with both emotive string work and a strange stories playing out in the background. The clarinet outro is one that will give you give you goosebumps on top of all that.
“Undercover” runs its pessimistic lyrics through the starkly scored piano-ballad as her vocals flutter through the track elegantly. With harmonies coming in with a sense of defiance, the track slowly becomes a wave of sound as each low end of the piano becomes destructive force of its own, taking the song into the stratosphere. Feeling like a fairy tale at times, “No One Believes in Love Anymore” contrasts its dark lyricism with handfuls of fantastical instrumentation. Between its flutes, distant strings and a flowing piano line, the track has carries a radiance that fits the song perfectly, avoiding the indulgence it could fall into without the right context.
Through a spoken-word intro, telling of a dark future, “The Golden Age” throws synth heavy arpeggios into cloudy background. Recalling Kate Bush, the track’s more ethereal quality is one of the most synth-focused of the record marking a sonically stirring moment on a record so acoustically-driven. After moments of demented piano, the heavy drops of the low keys make even more impact in their return. Bringing in John Grant for “Mountaineers” there’s an immediately shocking low-end to the vocals, as the synths craft an almost ritualistic tone in their hovering. With a light buzz, the instrumentation feels menacing as it holds and holds, only exploding in its much later moments. Using Grant as a base, Sundfør takes one final leap in her vocals creating cascading harmonies to close the album on a bang.
Words by Owen Maxwell