2015 was supposed to be Susanne Sundfør’s breakout year following the release of the exquisite ‘Ten Love Songs’. However, despite much critical praise, the Norwegian songwriter’s masterful transition towards glistening electro pop didn’t turn out to be the all-conquering crossover moment that many predicted it to be. You could say that any body of work produced by an artist, no matter what the field, is a reaction against what has just preceded it. This is certainly true of her latest release, ‘Music For People In Trouble’, which signals another notable shift in direction.
Her previous LP, although conventional by Sundfør’s unique standard, contained moments of wild, gloriously unhinged songcraft but now it feels as if the more leftfield strands of her sound — such as her experimentation with structure — are being pushed to the fore, and it’s thrilling to behold. This may be perhaps best exemplified by the transcendent, eight-minute wonder ‘The Sound Of War’. Initially, the track doesn’t sound too different to what the listener has heard up until that point, underscored by haunting, sustained vocals and minimal instrumentation. The closing section, meanwhile, unfurls like Hans Zimmer’s ‘Dunkirk’ score, fraught with tension and hissing menace. ‘Good Luck Bad Luck’ pulls a similarly effective trick by introducing a misty jazz coda seconds after the song comes to a sudden halt.
There’s another highlight in the way of John Grant collaboration ‘Mountaineers’, which finds the American singer channelling Michael Gira over a spectral, droning soundscape. Grant’s words are decidedly venomous and filled with intent: “Jumbo jets spiralling down like vultures of the stars / Soaring above barren lands of boiling tar / The liquid rainbow spills an ocean of scars / Among the buzzing of a million cars”. Sundfør enters midway through, her vocals intertwining sumptuously with Grant’s before shimmering synth pad swells build to an ethereal and blissful climax. It’s a stunning piece of music. Elsewhere the lavish balladry of sublime lead single ‘Undercover’ manages to bridge the gap between ‘Ten Love Songs’ and her new material.
Even during the album’s simplest moments — take opening pair ‘Mantra’ and ‘Reincarnation’ for example — Sundfør still mesmerises but it's the ease and frequency she does so which is particularly remarkable. ‘Music For People In Trouble’ takes more creative risks than its predecessor, and though this may deter some, it proves to be a decision that pays off. Far from diminishing the project, the end product is another outstanding record, executed with fearlessness and grace.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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