Susanna and the Magical Orchestra
This is exactly the kind of album I’ve been wishing one of the hot young things who enter and leave the revolving door of pop music would release. More often than not, I have to suffer through the bland pap regurgitated by singers like Joanna when their voices would be much better served offering up new takes on classic songs. Of course, now that Susanna and the Magical Orchestra have cover records on lockdown, the utility of those pretty faces has dropped yet another notch.
Comprised of singer Susanna Karolina Wallumrod and multi-instrumentalist Morten Qvenild (of Jaga Jazzist and The Shining), the group’s gathers together ridiculously disparate territories of the pop landscape –Leonard Cohen, AC/DC, Joy Division, Bob Dylan and Prince, to name just a few– under the umbrella of bleak minimalism. All of the songs are stripped beyond their basest musical element leaving only the familiar vocal melodies to the gorgeous voice of Susanna and the task of creating a single musical instrument accompaniment to Qvenild. It’s hard to say which of the two is more of a marvel. Surely the project wouldn’t succeed nearly as well if Susanna’s pristine and fragile lilt wasn’t as inviting and sorrowful as it is, but who else besides Qvenild would dare select a dark, plodding harpsichord to sum up the musicality of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” or the staccato one-note keyboard stabs that drive Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”?
With even light-hearted material taking a dark turn in the hands of these two, it’s understandable that Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” would be absolutely brutal. Susanna’s voice is at its mournful best here, pausing before sighing the chorus, while Qvenild’s murky keyboard ascension is barely audible at times, creeping like a foggy wave of memory. It’s nearly sacrilege to say that someone could do this song better than its writers, but this version is a very close second. It’s a rarity that I can say a covers records will likely find its way onto my top 10 list at the end of the year, but I have confidence in this one’s ability to resonate just as strong in eight months as it does today.
Rune Grammofon: www.runegrammofon.com