Susanna and the Magical Orchestra: List of Lights and Buoys
Rune Grammofon

Contrary to expectations, Susanna's Magical Orchestra is, in fact, wunderkind keyboardist Morten Qvenild abetted by vibes and guitars support from Jaga Jazzist's Andreas Mjøs. The instrumentalists provide nuanced support for Susanna Wallumrød's unaffected vocals whose occasional lilt bespeaks her Norwegian roots. Produced by Deathprod (Helge Sten) and Mjøs, the album's eleven pieces are predominantly low-key melancholy ballads. While that description might not sound terribly enticing, the album is in fact distinguished by its compelling juxtaposition of straightforward song structures and delicate singing with supple, textured electronics. Between them, Wallumrød, Qvenild, and Mjøs account for nine originals that encompass a broad stylistic range. “Turn The Pages” is perhaps most memorable, its lovely chorus “I don't know” followed by a poignant five-note motif, but also strong are the aching ballad “‘Believer” and “Hello,” the native twang in Susanna's singing (“a special way … Hello at my doorstep ”) audible amidst the burbling electronic chatter. Other tracks hint at possible influences: the whispered vocal on “Baby” recalling Jane Sibbery's naked singing style, and the dramatic, off-kilter sway of the rapturous “Distance Blues And Theory” suggesting Kurt Weill; even more noticeably, the compositional style and distorted, fuzzy electronics of “Sweet Devil” are textbook Björk. Still, the strongest pieces are the two covers. The unusual opener, Susanna's take on Leonard Bernstein's “Who Am I,” opens sparsely until Qvenild's waves of celestial shimmer rain down upon the sensual vocal, sung dreamily as if on the cusp of sleeping or exhaustion. The album peak, however, is the imaginative recasting of Dolly Parton's “‘Jolene.” During its four magnificent minutes, Susanna's whispered utterance imbues the song of a woman's desperate plea with heartbreak. While her singing is unadorned and free of embellishment, she still manages to plumb deep wells of sadness. It's a glorious moment on an exemplary recording.

March 2004