Susanna and the Magical Orchestra 3

[Rune Grammofon; 2009]

Styles: electronic balladry
Others: Lisa Papineau, Air, Björk, Junior Boys, M83, The Knife

Leave it to Rune Grammofon to explode your whole theory. The esteemed Norwegian label, a redoubt of skwonky experimental jazz and experimental fusion releases, is also home to Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, a resolutely tuneful duo who write ballads — ballads! — suffused with cool pathos. So much of the Rune Grammofon catalog is scattered and prickly as icicles; Susanna and the Magical Orchestra are thick and enveloping as a fine cashmere coat.

3 is a self-aware excursion into lush futurism. The programmed drums seem to thunder across skyscapes; the synths are blissed-out; Susanna Wallumrod’s vocals are reverbed and layered to the point of decadence. “Don’t know what I need/ Don’t know how much I must bleed for everything to be alright.” If there were a musical about a sci-fi-obsessed Norwegian teenager’s unrequited love for that girl from pre-calculus, this album could be the score. Indeed, tracks like “Palpatine’s Dream” (ostensibly a reference to the Emperor from Star Wars) and the cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” seem to be direct nods to touchstones of spaced-out pop culture from the 80s.

The Rush cover alone makes 3 worthwhile. Wallumrod's and Qvenild’s strengths meld beautifully, yielding a mournful gem that rivals Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” in its capacity for gentle devastation. “Subdivisions” describes the world that the hero of “Tom Sawyer” transcends. The Norwegians’ version of it captures the longing and the loneliness of both, two feelings that propel the considerable artistry of the entire album.

Genre games aside, this is gorgeous music. Wallumrod’s voice is a lovely, expansive instrument that deserves the spacious stage it receives throughout. Morten Qvenild and the production team (Helge Stern and Bob Katz) merit kudos for couching Wallumrod in textured atmospheres that can seem as distant as constellations and as intimate as silk lingerie.

1. Recall
2. Guiding Star
3. Game
4. Palpatine’s Dream
5. Another Day
6. Dear Eyed Lady
7. Lost
8. Subdivisions
9. Come On
10. Someday

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