Posted on Aug 26th 2009 12:49 am
SUSANNA AND THE MAGICAL ORCHESTRA
Rune Grammofon 2009
10 Tracks. 47mins02secs
The first noticeable thing about the latest opus from Norwegian duo Susanna And The Magical Orchestra is the bright, colourful image which ornates its cover, replacing the bleak funeral pictures created by Kim Hiorthøy for their two previous albums and the similar ones he did for Susanna Wallumrød’s two solo records. This is however not the most significant change. Indeed, while the pair’s first two albums, List Of Lights And Buoys (2004) and Melody Mountain (2006) made use of little else than sombre pianos and discreet electronics, Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild have opted here for a much bolder and richer sound, and have invited a host of contributors, including Susanna’s partner Helge Sten, who, beside co-producing the album, also plays guitars on a handful of tracks, while Mariam Wallentin, of Wildbirds & Peacedrums fame, and Wallumrød’s drummer brother Fredrik, both provide additional vocals along the way, Jaga Jazzist’s Andreas Mjøs adds vibraphone on Game and Erland Dahlen, drummer with Norwegian rock formation Madrugada, can be heard on drums and percussions on two tracks.
Like they did with their debut album, Wallumrød and Qvenild collect here eight original songs and two covers, of Roy Harper’s Another Day and Rush’s Subdivisions. After their deceiving second album, it is somewhat of a relief to see them putting once again their original song writing to good use, and there are quite a few gems to be found scattered all along the forty-seven minutes of this album. The more elaborate production also contributes to giving these a much wider scope. Album opener Recall for instance, while keeping close to the band’s gentle brushes and minimal orchestration in its first half, is shaken down to its foundations when heavy drums break in its second. Palpatine’s Dream is surprisingly upbeat and catchy, driven by eruptions of squiggly synth and a relentless drum machine, while Guiding Star, Rush’s stadium filler Subdivisions or closing piece Someday are given a more subtle and sophisticated feel thanks to smooth and rich electronic touches.
The introspective aspect of previous records hasn’t been totally forgotten though. While this album appears more open and bolder than its predecessors, Wallumrød’s clear and light voice still draws on emotions, especially when the soundscapes become for a moment more arid and bare, like on the beautiful Lost or Roy Harper’s Another Day, the latter, while not quite comparable to Liz Fraser’s interpretation, still proves a haunting piece under Wallumrød’s command. Game or Come On also feed on the band’s emotional reach, but here, the dark piano undertones are replaced with much rounder electronic sounds, softening the edges of these pieces and giving them a very different perspective.
With the cover album out of their system (hopefully), Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild have once again let their creative juices flow freely. They have become much more audacious and confident with their sound and are not afraid to lay the emotional landscapes of their songs in far less obvious settings than on previous outings. This greatly contributes to making 3 as exciting and enthralling an offer as their debut was.