Thursday, July 9, 2015

Susanne Sundfor Is My July Artist Of The Month!

The Good: Good voice, Distinct instrumental accompaniment, Most of the lyrics
The Bad: Frequently repetitive (hypnotically so!), Occasionally mediocre rhyme.
The Basics: A strong debut, Susanne Sundfor is surprising in that it did not lead to the artist becoming a household name worldwide!

I have a friend who has fallen into and out of my life over the last decade and whenever we reconnect, I try to figure out if we have anything in common to base a friendship on anymore. One of the elements of her personality that always attracted me to her was her creativity and musical talent. She is an incredible musical artist in her own right and she has an eclectic musical taste, much of which was alien to me before she came into my life. She was the one who had me listening to Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself (reviewed here!) long before most Americans had any idea who she was. On my last introduction to her, when I asked her about music, she insisted that I had to listen to the works of Susanne Sundfor. As I have found myself thinking of her lately, I figured it was a good time to check into her recommendation and I've decided to immerse myself in the music of Susanne Sundfor this month. Susanne Sundfor is my July Artist Of The Month!

I'm starting my exploration of the music of Susanne Sundfor with her self-titled debut album. Susanne Sundfor was released in 2007 and was a modest hit in Norway, but did not seem to jump the pond. In fact, it seems - from her current touring schedule - that Sundfor has not had much market penetration outside of Europe. In some ways, it is unsurprising that Susanne Sundfor was not a huge success in the U.S. when it was released; American radio was innundated with hip-hop, dance and rap at the time and the debut of Susanne Sundfor is decidedly not that.

With eleven songs, clocking out at 50:06, Susanne Sundfor is very much the creation of musical artist Susanne Sundfor. Sundfor wrote the music and lyrics to all eleven songs. She composed the instrumental version of "The Dance" that is attached to the final track ("After You Left") and she provides all of the lead vocals on Susanne Sundfor. Sundfor has a duet on Susanne Sundfor with Odd Martin Skalnes on the song "Morocco," but on the rest of the album she is on her own vocally. Sundfor plays her own piano; the only creative aspect she is not credited with on Susanne Sundfor is producing the album. Lars Horntvedt produced the album and, given that it is a debut album, it is unsurprising that Sundfor did not produce the album.

Susanne Sundfor is a piano-driven alternative-pop album. The tracks are almost all keyboard-driven ballads that have Sundfor pounding on her piano as she sings her songs. The vocals balance the melodic piano pieces and while the piano drives the album, songs like "Gravity" include folk-like guitar strummings to carry the harmony to Sundfor's vocals.

As for the vocals, Susanne Sundfor has pretty incredible vocal range. She transitions from alto to soprano registers with an apparent effortless quality. She impressively balances long, high note holding with quick, articulate stanzas. Throughout Susanne Sundfor, she makes sure that the lyrics may be clearly heard. Sundfor's melodic voice overshadows the instrumental accompaniment and that ensures the lyrics are given their appropriate priority in the songs.

It was unsurprising to me that "Walls" became one of the two hits for Susanne Sundfor off her debut, not just because it has the most full instrumental accompaniment on the song or because Sundfor's vocals are reminiscent at times of Joni Mitchell. Instead, "Walls" has an incredible and passionate sense of poetry to it. Anyone who has suffered from breakups, depression, isolation and gotten through them can empathize with Sundfor singing "But I guess I'm alright, I guess I'm fine, / I think sunshine will treat me kind, / but now I'm feeling kind of locked up in this house of mine, / 'cause these walls are killing me, / killing me when I am down" ("Walls").

For someone so young, Susanne Sundfor is incredibly articulate and insightful on Susanne Sundfor. With lines like "I've seen blood on hands of an innocent nation / I've seen endless war and endless desperation / Professors are patiently observing / Just another generation / Oh, this is the answer I am giving you / I am honest when I say that I love you, but / It doesn't matter / It doesn't matter / If I should ever turn away from you" ("Dear John"), Susanne Sundfor illustrates a more impressive level of diction and emotional honesty than most of the American pop stars who were on the rise when Susanne Sundfor was released!

Balancing between vignettes of musical storytelling and commentary on relationships, Susanne Sundfor is lyrically distinctive for the sense of imagery that Sundfor employs. Sundfor paints a very vivid picture with her poetics on songs like "Gravity" when she sings "Your eyes are greener than ever / But you are as empty as the bottle of wine you've already out / Your bed is where you take cover / And you want to wash your clothes."

Ultimately, Susanne Sundfor is an intriguing debut and, if it is any indication, I am off to a fascinating month studying an interesting musical artist who, at her worst, is engaging and eminently listenable.

The best track is "Walls," the low point is the instrumental version of "The Dance."

For works by other, former, Artists Of The Month, please check out my reviews of:
"Jackie's Strength" (single) - Tori Amos
The Beginning Of Survival - Joni Mitchell
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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