Reviews of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra “List of Lights and Buoys”
Norwegian newcomers’ magical debut. A Scandinavian duo in their mid-20s, singer Susanna Wallumrød and keyboardist Morten Qvenild make impossibly sad, starry-eyed music belying their years. An accomplished debut, ”List Of Lights And Bouys” is a breathtakingly beautiful, deceptively simple, deeply affecting collection of ghostly electronic melancholia, with Wallumrød’s sensuous voice (a Björk comparison is obvious but apt) to the fore. When she sings “Jolene”, slow and skeletal, it’s as if she penned it yesterday. A dolorous delight. 4/5.
Barely a minute into ”List Of Lights And Buoys” and 24-year old Susanna Wallumrød and ex-Jaga Jazzist Morten Qvenild have pulled you into their sparsely furnished alternate world where some Jennifer Warnes-like eidolon reveals tales of romantic grief in reedbeds of Eno-like spooky boom. Beautiful, spare, hypnotic, like Sinatra’s ”Where Are You?” Aimee Mann’s ”Bachelor No 2” and all great torch-song collections, ”List Of Lights…” is the sound of midnight chill, hope and longing whispered by the ghost of relationships who still haunts the old places. 4/5.
The stand-out track on Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild’s nakedly beautiful album of Eno-tronic heartbreak. One of the greatest break-up songs ever: “You are a believer, I am not.”
Mojo´s Top Ten (UK)
”List Of Lights And Buoys” is distinctly tasteful. Even though the flickering electrical sound effects, the swelling bass strings, and Susanna’s voice, somewhere between an in-tune Nico and a Hebridean folk singer, are unsettling, the overall sound has such a stately pace that it never becomes merely freaky. The songs themselves, proper torch songs, sung in slightly accented English, are all adult loneliness (especially on the understated cover of Dolly Parton’s ”Jolene”) and existential pondering, giving the whole an air of a slow but sophisticated arthouse film. It’s not exactly fun, fun, fun, but as small-hours pondering records go, it’s a keeper.
Kicking off your debut album with your own version of two classic songs is nothing short of suicidal. This is however exactly what Rune Grammofon’s most recent signing have gone and do by opening ”A List Of Lights & Buoys” with a cover of ”Who Am I”, taken from Leonard Bernstein’s ”Peter Pan” musical, and Dolly Parton’s ”Jolene”. This is, in this case, a bold statement and sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the album.Produced by another of Jaga Jazzist’s members, and Rotoscope founder, Andreas Mjøs and Deathprod’s Helge Sten, ”List Of Lights & Buoys” is a stunning piece of work. Delicate in its melodies and arrangements, the essence of this album is to be found somewhere between the crystalline ambiences of Björk’s ”Vespertine” and the acoustic structures of Carole King’s ”Tapestry”. Yet, the pair craft here a very personal record, based almost entirely around Wallumrød’s voice. If the music offers subtle sombre contrasts to her colourful touches, it never disturbs the clarity of tone or the precious silences in between words. ”List Of Lights & Buoys” is a superb stylistic exercise and a captivating piece of work. Both Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild show great maturity and control over their respective contribution, making this album a very promising record and one of the strongest debuts heard in years. 4.9/5.
The Milk Factory (UK)
Susanna & The Magical Orchestra cover Dolly Parton’s ”Jolene”, Leornard Bernstein’s ”Who Am I?” on a gorgeous debut, ”List Of Lights and Buoys” (Rune Grammofon), stripping them down to vocals, keyboards, autoharp and vibraphone.
I know it´s early, but there isn´t likely to be a more auspicious debut than this one all year.
Signal to Noise (US)
The hushed, guileless beauty of this debut is a rare treasure indeed. It’s not a record to shout about from the rooftops, but one to leave quietly by a friend’s stereo after they’ve gone on all night about stress and sleeplessness. The album begins with two cover versions, Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Who Am I’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’. Frozen and desperate, their Jolene couldn’t be less similar to the White Stripes’ one. Though similarly icy and quiet the nine subsequent self-compositions pack in an astonishing range of moods and sounds, from the sub-bass techno of ‘Sweet Devil’ to the twinkling ’Turn the Pages’ and the heartbroken, piano-only ‘Baby’. Throughout, Wallumrød’s voice takes your breath away, a presence as bewitching and unfathomable as any you’ll encounter in 2004. Album of the month (one of ten).
The Observer (UK)
These are songs that go their own ways, often with classic pop structures as the starting point,with lyrics about basic questions and everyday observations. It´s not big words and gestures that make this so moving, rather the opposite: The record is so intimate that it almost makes you jump at first, before you become comfortable with Susanna Wallumrød´s direct communication, where so little comes between the singer and the listener. Every little phrase, every little pause is loaded with expression. These are songs that grab you, and a record that makes time stand still. 6/6.
This is truly an extraordinary record. It´s not necessarily the unbeliveably beautiful and unexpected version of Dolly Parton´s ”Jolene” that runs away with the first prize, it gets some good competition from several other tracks. Probably one of the finest releases this year.
Natt og Dag (NO)
Take note of the name, because this is a brilliant debut. The music is creative, distinctive, personal and very beautiful. Their excellent interpretation of Dolly Parton´s ”Jolene” and the bold version of Leonard Bernstein´s ”Who Am I” set the standard. The remaining nine tracks are their own and shine just as brightly.
They have created a seductive musical universe, stripped down as much as is possible, but without losing a strong sense of melody. Here are strong interpretations of Leonard Bernstein´s ”Who Am I” and Dolly Parton´s ”Jolene” Equally strong, if not stronger, are the original songs such as Wallumrød´s sacred flirt ”Sweet Devil” and Qvenild´s restrained gospelfeel of ”Turn The Pages”.
A fantastic version of Dolly Parton´s ”Jolene” and ten other examples of feverishly intense jazzelectronica with vocal magic. The vocal presence is so strong we have to go to the top shelf for comparisons: Sidsel Endresen and Radka Toneff. A very beautiful record.
Let it be clear straight away: This is no less than a sensation. They have created their very own space, and they have done it with integrity, originality and a maturity that is almost frightening. Susanna Wallumrød has the ability to interpret a text in a way seldom heard, she lets the words breathe and gives them an opportunity to stay with the listener. One round in the cd-player is enough to believe in her. It´s both original and personal, and at the same time very accesible and inviting. Excellent!
Another excellent album from Rune Grammofon, and one that easily can be remembered when you put together that best of list in December.
What a surprise! From out of the blue comes Susanna Wallumrød and delivers a mature and fascinating album with keyboard player Morten Qvenild. It´s full of strong melodies somewhere between jazz, rock and electronica.The duo has written nine of the eleven tracks and shows great composing skills. Susanna Wallumrød is clearly a big talent and is already singing with a maturity normally expected from far older singers.
The debut from this duo is a low key and exquisite album with beautiful singing and contemplating keyboards. Simply a delicious album. I would also like to thank them for releasing ”Jolene” from it´s original country-pop frames. Here it falls in place as a much more vulnerable and suggestive song.
I know it’s still a relatively new year, and god how I hate to resort to the overplayed “one of 2004’s best,” but I’m almost certain that even as I type this, a dozen people have scribbled the name Susanna and the Magical Orchestra on their respective “best of” lists. The debut album from this atmospheric Norwegian duo is that special. Vocalist Susanna Wallumrød and keyboardist Morten Qvenild have created a stunning understated mix of pop, jazz, laptop and minimal electronica that oozes sensuality. It’s so personal that you’ll keep pushing your headphones closer to your ears. The minimal arrangement of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is so stripped that Wallumrød makes this desperate plea her very own. Tracks like the melancholic “Believer”, the sad, dreamy romance of “Sweet Devil,” and the lush multi-tracked vocal refrain of “Time” will literally make your arm hairs stand on end. It’s all really beautiful, right down to the CD sleeve designed by Kim Hiorthøy. Recommended!
Other Music (US)
Only one month into 2004 and the first candidate for ‘Album Of The Year 2004′ is in. The music on this CD can be described as a mixture of pop, jazz and ambient. Very quiet, calm, mostly soothing but also melancholic. Susanna has a beautiful voice that even without any accompaniment would’ve been impressive but Morten’s instrumentation is just as wonderful. Placed somewhere between the most melodic glitch of Fennesz and the broken pumporgans of Tom Waits it’s amazing to hear how Leonard Bernstein’s composition ”Who Am I” after a quiet start begins to sparkle an glow. By then you know this album is onto something special. The second song is a cover again, surprisingly Dolly Parton’s ”Jolene”, a great song already, but Susanna’s version amplifies the more desperate aspects of it, it makes you really feel for her. The original songs that fill the rest of the album are equally special and magical. Romantic and cute songs like ”Friend”, the melancholic personal favourite ”Sweet Devil” (with a wonderful arrangement) give me the shivers on several occasions. The album even reaches a complete rapture in ”Distance Of Theory And Blues” as the electro-acoustic whirlwind completely sucks you in only to drop you back to earth in the outro ”Go”. Yes, I am impressed by this debut. The inventive and tasteful arrangements, the beautiful atmosphere and the wonderful voice of Susanna gave me goosebumps while listening to it. I don’t dare to think what this is like live, I hope to experience it some day, though. So whaddayaknow? Five kudo’s from the bottom of my heart!
”Believer” is a simple ode to the destruction of a relationship, perching Wallumrød´s clear and pure vocals against a stark background of two different keyboard 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 Björk´s ”Vespertine” songs with a calliope-esque melody providing the chorus amid Susanna´s most buoyant vocal performance on the album. One of the most promising debuts of the young year and comes highly recommended.
The instrumentalists provide nuanced support for Susanna Wallumrød´s subtle and unaffected vocals whose occasional lilt bespeaks her Norwegian roots. Produced by Deathprod (Helge Sten) and Andreas 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. The album peak is the imaginative recasting of Dolly Parton´s ”Jolene”. During its four magisterial 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 and majestic highlight on this exemplary recording from rune grammofon.
Albums don’t come much more beautiful than ”List of Lights and Buoys”. Despite a certain variety in the instrumentation and an undisputable audacity in the textural dress-up, ”List of Lights and Buoys” relies solely on the strong songwriting team of Wallumrød and Qvenild, and on Susanna’s irresistibly moving, seductive torch singer of a voice. With a desire to nail the listener to his or her chair right from the start, the album opens with two highly personal interpretations. Leonard Bernstein’s “Who Am I” is born out of and sent back to an electronic fog through which Susanna’s voice appears like a divine lighthouse. ”Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” provides the album’s highlight, a showcase for Susanna’s genuine torch singing and Qvenild’s sensitive, minimal arrangements. The duo’s songwriting is then allowed to shine, especially in “Friend”, “Distance Blues and Theory” and the gripping “Believer”. These songs are strong examples of timeless songwriting, the electronic vestments give them a certain edge, but don’t distract from their true qualities. A must-have and one of the most promising debut albums of the year.
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra sway, saunter, and sulk through nine melancholy originals and two spectacular cover versions on this exceptional debut. Her Norwegian heritage naturally compels American reviewers far lazier than I to draw comparisons between her and that adored Scandinavian chanteuse Björk, easily encapsulating our opinions of the record into neat, reader-friendly boxes. However, it would be criminal to ignore or even gloss over Susanna’s desperately fragile and foreign intonations, as well as the endless waves of solemnity that define her standout performance style. Rejecting Björk’s over-the-top delivery, Susanna opts to uses her time on record differently, exposing a strangely seductive fragility instead of conjuring up some inner feminine strength. While singing simple yet powerful words like “happiness” and “joy,” the sincerity in her voice expresses a general malaise and a yearning for deserved yet tragically inaccessible dreams, a sense strategically supported by the truly “magical” compositions of primary instrumentalist Morten Qvenild. The cover versions, of Leonard Bernstein and Dolly Parton respectively, are just as moving and powerful as the originals. The interpretation of Bernstein’s “Who Am I” blends cold alien radio frequencies into shimmering and bright keyboard tones without breaking any sense of flow, while the seemingly simplistic plucking on the highly emotional “Jolene” overflows with emotion as a result of its sparsity. All throughout, Qvenild constructs masterful beds of subtle sound, full of space and far more melodic and engaging than Matmos’ work with the aforementioned Icelandic princess. With the Magical Orchestra, Qvenild has discovered a comfortably tranquil niche in that delicate balance between conventional musicality and audio experimentation, and I can only hope that he continues to collaborate with the enchanting Susanna on further releases. Without question, ”List of Lights and Buoys” is one of the strongest contenders so far for placement atop my “Best Of” list for this year.
Their version of ”Jolene” brings about the goosebumps and is the most intensly beautiful I´ve heard in a long time.
Stavanger Aftenblad (NO)