Susanna & The Magical Orchestra
List of Lights and Buoys
he Rune Grammofon label has made its name on trading in avant garde explorations of rock, jazz and noise in the past. With the release of List of Lights and Buoys, however, the label turns as closely as it ever has towards the pop landscape. Susanna, Susanna Wallumrød, and the Magical Orchestra, keyboardist Morten Qvenild, open the album with two covers: Leonard Bernstein’s “Who Am I?” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. The rest are collaborations between the two or Qvenild’s own compositions.
The group has been whetting appetites for this full length with the release of “Believer” on a recent Wire Tapper CD, as well as the label’s own Money Will Ruin Everything compilation. The song is a simple ode to the destruction of a relationship, perching Wallumrød’s clear and pure vocals against a stark background of two different keyboards sounds that tentatively pluck out the verse and confidently glide into the chorus. The brunt of the blame lies on Wallumrød, as she remains resolutely an unbeliever, having to “destroy it all”. And while it is easily the highlight here, there are numerous other reasons to recommend this recording.
The cover of Parton’s “Jolene”, for example, strips the song of its country tinge, revealing that only six notes are needed to render a compelling version of the song. Additionally, “Time” is a gem of a song, mining the same sort of electronic naivete of Bjork’s Vespertine songs with a calliope-esque melody providing the chorus amid Susanna’s most buoyant vocal performance on the album. The majority of the album doesn’t share the same sense of exuberance of “Time”, instead choosing to mine a more subtle and controlled territory of love, loss and regret.
The musical backing for much of the album could most accurately be compared to Matmos’ work with Bjork, with perhaps less of the glitch effects. The sound here is far cleaner, but just as mysterious sounding. The mystery remains not in where the sounds originate, but in their ambiguous feeling. On tracks like “Baby”, where the musical origin is laid bare to the listener, the music loses none of the power of the inventive sounding instrumentation of, say, “Who Am I?”
While there are criticisms to be leveled at Susanna & The Magical Orchestra’s songwriting talents (the album would benefit from more covers and less original material, most likely), the album occupies a certain space outside of real critical inquiry. It’s the sort of album that critics can easily turn away from, but has the potential to win listeners over completely. Like Denali stripped of the huge choruses, Bjork without the wild vocal jumps or a cold, Nordic take on Nina Nastasia, it’s one of the most promising debuts of the young year and comes highly recommended.