Susanna and the Magical Orchestra List of Lights and Buoys Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

First album from the duo of Susanna Wallumrod and Jaga Jazzist alumnus Morten Qvenlid.

Peter Marsh 2004

Whether it's the long nights, the high alcohol prices or the psychological effect of the landscapes that are to blame, there's little doubt that no-one does melancholia quite as well as the Scandinavians. In fact, if this lot weren't from Norway, you might be a little worried about their emotional wellbeing after listening to this album.

Susanna is vocalist Susanna Wallumrod, while the Orchestral bit is provided by keyboard player Morten Qvenlid (an alumnus of the omnipresent Jaga Jazzist collective), with help from Andreas Mjos (also from Jaga Jazzist). Together they've constructed a collection of rich, wintry ballads that might bring on a mild bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder among the more sensitive of us.

The range of emotion covered runs from wistful to bleak, and in the wrong mood it's the kind of record that could irritate or simply depress. Butat the right time and place, Wallumrod's understated torchsong hits the same spots as Jane Siberry, Stina Nordenstamor Mathilde Santing.

Her voice is assured, precise, quietly intense, and the fragile web of spectral electronica, wheezing harmonium, vibes and wispy guitars that surrounds it makes for the sort of abstracted balladry that Sidsel Endresen or Björk excel in. The stark reconstruction of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" included here has already caused a bit of a critical stir, but for me the best moments come elsewhere; the swooning choruses of "Friend" and "Time"; the desolate beauties of "Distance Blues and Theory" or "Believer". These are the kind of songs that can send those small bursts of pleasure up the back of the spine or release clouds of butterflies into your stomach.

While the feyness level may not be set as high as that of Nordenstam's, it may still be too much for some. Likewise, the bleak introspection of the lyrics can wear a bit; on occasion I found myself wishing Ms Wallumrod would just put the kettle on, have a nice cup of teaandpull herself together.But the richness of Qvenlid's orchestrations, together with extra atmospheres from'audio virus' Deathprod (aka Helge Sten)helps to keep the listener engaged (if not necessarily happy...)

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