utorak, 15. siječnja 2013.

Susanne Sundfør – The Silicone Veil (2011)

Norveški art-folk. Podžanr: lijepa jezovitost.

Apokalipsa, smrt, ljubav i snijeg.

I wish to God that the earth would turn cold/ And all the pretty tulips would disappear.

Susanne Sundfør continues the expansion of her musical universe with her new album, The Silicone Veil (2012), a follow-up to the critically acclaimed, platinum-selling The Brothel (2010), which spent 30 weeks in the Norwegian album charts and sold more than 40.000 copies. Where The Brothel was seen to gravitate towards a dark, cold and closed musical expression, The Silicone Veil contains melodies that hint of warmth and fullness, bound in multifaceted and complex soundscapes.
The album lyrics, however, point in a different direction: towards despondency and the loss of illusions, faith and hope. They explore our inability to understand the difficult times we find ourselves in and appreciate the consequences of the lives we are leading, rather than denying them. Thematically, The Silicone Veil centres on the blurred boundaries between one state of being and another, between life and death, between people, and between us and the Earth. As Sundfør summarises it: “Apocalypse, death, love and snow”.

Building on the success of 2010′s The Brothel, Susanne Sundfør gently pulls out the rug from the conventions of song on this album. The electronica is more a garnish than a tone of voice, however, & the experimentation never obscures the fact that, above all, these are deeply lyrical, heartfelt songs. Sundfør’s voice sounds better than ever, strong, occasionally child-like, always exquisitely delivered. - 5against4.com

Since the release of The Brothel in 2010, Susanne Sundfør’s evolution as a singer, songwriter and performer has been little short of astounding. Her initial releases barely hinted at what was to come, and the progression of boldness continues at pace in The Silicone Veil.
The Norwegian’s ability as a vocalist has never been in doubt, but here it is at its most obvious, as she makes her range clear whilst demonstrating an unsettling propensity for holding in the high registers. White Foxes, perhaps the album’s most invasively electronic track, is where Sundfør is found at her most versatile. These vocals soar, moving at one with the waxing and waning of the accompaniment, which is often comprised of meaty synthesisers and heavy electronics.
Said track, the album’s lead single, is certainly dramatic; but there is also drama in instrumental moments. Meditations in an Emergency is an exclusively strings affair, with ensemble The Trondheim Soloists on duty, and serves as a brooding, dark mid-point interlude. It is but two-and-a-half minutes yet feels almost oppressively long, such is its impact.
Though there are undoubtedly passages which border on the garish, these only serve to accentuate the toned-down segments. Part of the way The Silicone Veil sounds can be attributed to the hands and ears of Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Horntveth, who contributes co-production duties as well as featuring prominently as a musician.
Although there’s a fair amount of variance between each composition, the lyrical narrative found in these songs is another element which forces you to listen more intently. The title track may be the most intriguing of these and is perhaps her strongest cut since The Brothel’s own title track.
Many unusual, strange and unexpected elements are heard throughout, but things never stray into the land of the inaccessible, and nor could they be labelled “experimental”. “Powerful” is perhaps the most fitting word, and though the strength of certain arrangements can feel all-engulfing, there are too many moments of near-inexpressible, extravagant brilliance on The Silicone Veil to deny Sundfør's overall accomplishment. - Luke Slater

 It’s a curious thing that in the modern age we still have superstars specific to region. Unless language is perceived as an issue it would seem that any acclaimed and popular artist should be able to freely cross border after border, using the internet to stride neatly and comfortably over barriers of label, licensing, even cultural understanding. Yet you’ll find artists like Ireland’s Adrian Crowley or Australia’s Sparkadia operating at a major level in their home countries while finding little in terms of attention – from press or public – elsewhere.
Susanne Sundfør is a Norwegian heroine it would seem. With a series of number 1 albums in them there Nordic realms, signed to EMI Norway and even recently indulged with the release of an entirely instrumental orchestral album (A Night At Salle Plevel) Sundfor is something of a localised cultural force.
In this instance, perhaps more than any other currently noticeable, the rest of the world is missing out to an unacceptable degree. It’s likely we’ll have people listening to this record and to Sundfør’s outstandingly emotive voice and wondering what they have filled their musical lives with since her emergence in 2007.
Luckily they’ll have The Silicone Veil to hold close to their chests while they ponder how an artist of this significance has until now eluded them.  This is an album of spectral, elemental romance and intrigue, playfully but precisely woven into a tremulous tapestry of seemingly ever-oscillating sound.
Of the tracks most easily identifiable as pop music here we have the spider web melodies of ‘White Foxes’ weaving through meandering piano lines and pounding, upfront synth with a hookline (“You gave me my very first gun”) worthy of Dave Gahan.  ‘Rome’ shares that song’s obsession with jarring but ultimately satisfying cadances and tune. A ridiculously ornate structure sees Thom Yorke’s vocal stylings taken as a jumping off point, tiny seeds planted in the first minute eventually blossoming into great arcing ropes of musical holly and ivy, wrapping the listener, mummy-like, in an ‘80s retro-tomb or maybe a space-beat preservation unit.
While that may sound a little strange it’s important to understand that Sundfør is toying with wildly disparate ideas here, turning them into their own melted, melded genre. While the instrumentation on songs such as ‘Among Us’ (a serial killer tale that plaintively notes “He peeled off every vein I had/’Til there was nothing left”) is straight from an electro galaxy far, far away, the fairytale nature of her lyrics is entirely grounded in spiritual but earthy ethereal realms – on songs like ‘Can You Feel The Thunder’ we’re lost in the woods with a gorgeous but untrustworthy guide, unsettling notions like “I am nearly human/My body covered in buttons” leading us to the conclusion that we should “Kneel to the angels in high heels”. The direct simplicity of the piano playing on these more sparse tracks is reminiscent of the oft-overlooked Plush – never a bad thing.
There’s visceral and frenetically violent material to be dealt with here too. Much like Purity Ring’s Megan James, Sundfør shrouds disturbing poetry under layers of luscious musicality. Talk of guns, hearts in jars and separated fingers crops up as often as the more time-honoured mentions of snow, spring and sea.
The title track typifies exactly what’s going across the whole record. There’s the sickness and darkness – “My skin so thin you can see black holes within” and then there’s the orchestral beauty, the electro buzz and the traditional folk intonations of the melody. It’s simultaneously distracting for its tessellating component pieces and endlessly enveloping, depending on which part of the brain you choose to engage with.
These, then, are ghost tales told from both sides, and capable of transcendent beauty as on the Neil Young-covers-Cocteau Twins (yes, that good) heart-pull of ‘When’, a song that, if you aren’t careful, may just take you roughly by surprise and nearly make you cry in the queue at the café. Just saying, you know, it might.
The criticisms then are few. We very rarely step above mid-pace – perhaps a more extravagant jaunt into dance, seeing as you’ve got the kit there already might have been fun? It could easily be accused of intrinsic musical elitism – it’s a very, very clever record indeed BUT it’s also a uniquely enjoyable one. You don’t need to be a trained musician to know what feels good at the point of entry. (Filth).
Sundfør will be compared in the media to various artists past and present that you’ll be able to list within 30 seconds of hearing one of her songs but it’d be reductive to do that here, such a pointless trawl through the usual clichéd suspects would it be. Suffice to say there are few of those names as relevant and fresh as Sundfør is right at this moment, further that the barriers and borders of countries outside her own should brace themselves for an epic and affecting expanse of musical beauty headed their way. The regional has become the universal.-

 With her previous album The Brothel, Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør released one of the finest albums of 2010, but very few people in the UK turned out to be listening. This oversight now looks set to be corrected with the release of what is actually her fifth album (including last year’s orchestral work A Night At Salle Pleyel), but which many ears will treat as her de facto debut. The Silicone Veil is every bit as magisterial and conceptually loaded as her previous album of songs. Sundfør is a singer and writer unafraid to explore both her lyrical and musical preoccupations to challenging and sometimes uncomfortable depths. Sundfør glazes her music with an enticing saccharine coating that ultimately proves deceptive.
Once again collaborating with Lars Horntveth, the master multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and composer from Jaga Jazzist, Sundfør has crafted evocative, rich and detailed accompaniments for her vivid, bewitching narratives. Whilst there are some nostalgic reference points (not least Depeche Mode on the stark, propulsive Diamonds), much of the crepuscular electro-folk on The Silicone Veil still sounds sleek and contemporary. The swooning strings also inevitably lend much of the material a cinematic quality that seems entirely appropriate for the hallucinatory nature of these songs.
As seductive as this material undoubtedly is, it also seems sinister and uncomfortable. On the title track, one of many tracks on which Sundfør is unafraid to push her vocal into its upper register (to wildly and theatrically dissonant effect as the music takes flight), she weaves a bizarre and troubling narrative ("I go to a funeral every day"). The garment of the title apparently enables her to "enter this world again as a ghost". Indeed, the album seems preoccupied with images of death and the supernatural. From its opening lines ("there’s a killer among us"), Among Us describes not only the work of a killer, but also his apparent magnetic pull.
There’s also keening, romantic and melancholy qualities at play here, not least on the ballads. In some respects, they are close to being torch songs, but Sundfør’s delivery comes with an intuitive balance of drama and restraint. She is also masterful in her construction of melodies that are once appealing and unpredictable. Her lines rarely follow predictable or expected trajectories - and yet her songs are still as touching as they are techincally impressive, not least the astonishing, devastating When.
Sundfør and Horntveth are both meticulous in their approach, so it is hardly surprising that The Silicone Veil betrays an almost obsessive level of attention to detail. There are nuances in sound, harmony, texture and delivery at almost every turn. There are also sophisticated multi-layered vocal arrangements, notably at the spectacular culimnation of Rome and the elaborate, Björk-esque Stop (Don’t Push The Button). Sundfør is also particularly fond of unexpected codas that both surprise and delight. The opening Diamonds, relentless and creepy for much of its duration, ends with a peculiar burst of almost pretty sounding harp.
Selecting examples and highlights can hardly begin to offer an impression of the boldness and confidence of this wonderful album. Sundfør’s combination of careful, detailed arrangement and unrepentant magic realism is visionary and enriching. - Daniel Paton

 There's clearly something in the air - between this, Grimes, iamamiwhoami, EMA, Grouper, Jenny Hval, Chelsea Wolfe, Julianna Barwick, Little Brother, tUnE-yArDs, Leni Ward, Julia Holter, Joanna Newsom, and the return of Fiona Apple, we're experiencing a golden age of quirky female auteurs with considerable individuality and sonic ambition. Long may it continue.
 What distinguishes Susanne Sundfør from the rest of the pack, if only slightly, is the way that her own vision of art pop focuses on the pop as much as the art. Okay, so it's not exactly something you'd expect to hear on drivetime radio, but the production and the mixing of The Silicone Veil pushes Susanne Sundfør's voice out front, making every word she sings clear and legible in a way that's subtly unusual for this vague trend, where the normal voices are drenched in an ocean of reverb and the rest are generally encouraged to ham up their idiosyncrasies. Sundfør takes this clarity as an opportunity to soar, with wide leaps into her upper register becoming something of a trademark as the album wears on - the impression you get is that, while she doesn't have the most distinctive voice in the world, she does have one that would suit almost any genre, which is a virtue in itself.
 Yet while he r voice feels like the album's main strength on first listen, it doesn't take long to appreciate how good the music is here. The mood is consistent, wistful and pretty, but the sound touches on all sorts of bases -opener "Diamonds" feels like a relative of the This Mortal Coil version of "Song to the Siren" at first before moving into more exotic territory with Lisa Gerrard-esque Eastern-tinged melodies and frantic percussion, the excellent lead single "White Foxes" weds portentous piano to bubbling synths (as with a few tracks here, it reminds me a little of the better moments on The Gathering's If_Then_Else), "Rome" rides a throaty sawtooth synth line at times and a string quartet at others, the constantly rolling "Can You Feel the Thunder" co-opts some of Joanna Newsom's airiness, and the orchestral, instrumental "Meditations in an Emergency" could have been part of a Howard Shore film score. And that's just the first half.
 Impressively, this all works an album, hanging together more naturally than any description would suggest. The first time it starts to feel a little odd is on the sixth track, "Among Us", which opens with some synths that suggest a much softer version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" before some off-kilter sliding strings come in. They're a little offputting, but Sundfør just about pulls it together when the vocals come in - and that is pretty much the only mis-step anywhere on the album. The consistency of mood and quality is little short of astounding, particularly as she is a big fan of introducing a completely new element halfway through a song to kick it into a new gear (see "The Silicone Veil", "Your Prelude", "Diamonds", and even the way "White Foxes" transitions into its chorus), a trick rarely conducive to this kind of atmosphere.
 Carefully orchestrated, beautiful sung, and imaginatively written; I hadn't even heard the name Susanne Sundfør a week before I first heard this album, and yet The Silicone Veil falls so comfortably into my own tastes that I feel as if I've known about her for years. With a little more exposure, she has the potential to be a star. - Nick Butler

 The Brothel (2010)

There's something so inherently ethereal in the packaging of Susanne Sundfor's second proper outing, that the young Norwegian singer-songwriter wouldn't really have to do too much musically to extend that atmosphere throughout the whole album. But what's most striking after having given The Brothel a lot of careful listens, is how tangibly that mood depicted on the album cover is conveyed for the duration of these ten tracks. If there was ever a decisive piece of evidence about the power of music to convey mental imagery more powerfully than people give it credit for, then this album, along with Ulver's 'Perdition City,' would certainly be it.
But I guess I'm avoiding the most pressing question for any readers of this review; who exactly is Susanne Sundfor? She's still relatively unknown, but is one of the many interesting new artists coming out of the burgeoning Scandinavian scene. Her first album, released in 2007, showcased her impressive ability for writing gorgeous pop songs, but on this, her sophomore work, she shows a much darker side, throwing in electronic effects, strings and whatever else will add to her vision as she begins to push the boundaries of the singer-songwriter genre far further than one would imagine was possible from such a new artist. You might not have heard of her before now, but sit up and take notice; she has every right to be the next Joni Mitchell, only with a darker side to her.
And that dark side is really what carries The Brothel. The title track opens the album, with a gorgeous, hypnotic rhodes piano line being the only companion to Sundfor's perfectly mastered voice. She has an impressive range, for sure, but her main asset as a vocalist is her sheer power. She doesn't ever quite 'belt out' any of her notes, but she delivers them with such passion, such presence, that the lyrics grab you and impress their imagery upon your mind in an effective manner. The title track grows and grows, until it climaxes in a black hole of strings and wordless vocals. It then gently descends back to earth, with an outro that sees Sundfor softly asking 'is anybody listening?' It's a hell of an opener, and I can only fault it because it's arguably the best song on the album.
But despite that, the other nine tracks which follow this superb first one don't fail to live up to expectations. The aggressive synths on Lilith create an immediate counterpoint to the preceding track, and, whilst grating upon the first few listens, really begin to 'make sense' the more you give them a chance. Black Widow continues the slightly ominous vibe of the first two tracks, and then the fourth track, It's All Gone Tomorrow, notches the quality back up a level, delivering a breathtaking myriad of styles combined into one captivating whole. Whether it's the taut strings of the intro, or the heavy synths of the verses, or the beautifully melodic chorus, the track doesn't let up, and by the time it's over, it feels like you've just come up for air after six minutes and seven seconds spent blissfully underwater.
It might well seem like the album had nowhere to go after two such brilliant tracks, but Knight of Noir proves that notion wrong, delivering what seems to be most peoples' favourite song of the album with probably the most fitting title for a song in terms of its music that I've ever heard. What follows after that brilliant midpoint is, astonishingly, not a drop in quality, but a continuation of all of the themes of the first half of the album, expressed more gently, with quieter synths and gentler melodies for the most part. And, I'll say it again, the most mesmerizing thing about this second half of the album is that it upholds the increasingly vivid picture that Sundfor has been painting.
Bizarrely for a Norwegian native, the overriding sense of place I get with this album is that of Victorian-era London. Every single second of this album works towards sustaining the world created by the deceptively gorgeous album art, and by the end of the final track, you feel so lost in the haze of the universe that it's been sucking you into, that it's almost too tempting to stay there forever. Much like Ulver's aforementioned 'Perdition City,' this album really does feel like 'music to an interior film,' but what makes The Brothel a better album, in my opinion, is the fact that it offers both this ambient, soundscaping quality and, that which is much more to be admired, it can also be viewed, equally, as ten almost perfectly written songs, with lyrics that tell a story that doesn't come into conflict with, but merely supports and builds upon, the narrative that the listener can't help but form themselves just based on the musical elements of the album alone.
 And that really is, for me, where The Brothel succeeds so resoundingly. On the one hand, it's an album with some excellently composed songs, featuring effortlessly evocative lyrical prowess on display from Sundfor, who also exercises her considerable vocal talents. It's an album of musical innovation in her genre, but nothing is used to excess, and the balance is, pretty much, perfect. But the main reason that it's such an extraordinary album, rather than 'merely' an excellent one, is because not one second that wouldn't have helped Sundfor to create such an inviting world to dive into is wasted. Every single facet of the album helps you to stride into that most titillating of worlds, your mind's eye, hand-in-hand with Sundfor, the most artful director of your imagination that you could wish for. And in this respect, The Brothel is nothing but a triumph, an experience that manages to transcend mere 'listening' if you give it the appropriate levels of concentration. Had just a few weaker moments, such as the instrumental sections in Lilith and Black Widow, been cut, it might well stand head and shoulders above almost the entirety of the rest of its genre. But as it stands, The Brothel is an album that should be heard by anybody who claims to be a music-lover. Sundfor asks at the end of track one, 'is anybody listening?' And forty minutes later, at the end of the album, I'm inclined to respond with a most resounding, enthusiastic 'yes.' - www.sputnikmusic.com/


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