It takes a certain level of fame to drop your surname and join that select group of people known just by their first names. Kylie, Cheryl, Adele – you may quibble about their levels of talent, but everyone knows who they are.
Susanna may not have quite reached that level of fame (in the UK at least) but she’s certainly put the hours in. Over the past nine years, Susanna Wallumrød (for it is her) has been one of the most prolific artists in her native Norway. She’s probably best known for her work with Morten Qvenild under the moniker Susanna & The Magical Orchestra, who have performed low-key, jazzy covers of the likes of Love Will Tear Us Apart, Dolly Parton‘s Jolene and, possibly most audaciously, It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock’n Roll by AC/DC.
Susanna’s also worked with Jenny Hval, and released a number of solo albums, of which Triangle is her latest. And it’s fair to say that it’s something of an epic: there are 22 tracks spread across Triangle, with a running time of over 70 minutes. While that’s not necessarily a problem – time invested in Have One On Me by Joanna Newsom or The Beatles‘ ‘White Album’ is never time wasted – it does require an above average level of commitment on the part of the listener.
It’s fair to say that those 22 tracks follow a certain template. Most songs on Triangle are distinguished by their minimal, almost ghostly arrangements, some eerie ambient noise and plenty of repetitive vocal lines – sometimes, the effect can be starkly beautiful, as on the lovely Texture Within, at others it’s downright terrifying, as the menacing This/Phenomena, with its relentless drone and distorted vocals, proves. It’s certainly an album of contrasts, sometimes in the same song – light as a feather and wistful, but with a portentous state of dread hanging just under the surface.
There’s not much concession made to traditional pop, either. Only Hole can really be described as catchy or commercial, its electro-beats and spacey synths coming as some blessed light relief, while the pulsating bass and groaning string sections of The Fire could be a decent soundtrack for David Lynch‘s upcoming new season of Twin Peaks. Mostly though, the mood is dark and downbeat – there are nods to mid-period Joni Mitchell at times, and most explicitly of all, to Kate Bush‘s more restrained work. Indeed, at times, Susanna’s voice is uncannily reminiscent of Bush’s, especially on the startling title track.
There are lyrical motifs abound of rebirth and spirituality – titles like In The Need Of A Shepherd, Holy/Sacred, Before The Altar and Born Again all hint at an interest in religion, or at least a guiding figure, without ever lapsing into preachiness. There’s also much talk of water: songs like Ebb And Flow, Burning Sea and the gorgeous Under Water all seem to explore similar themes. The lyrics though are abstract enough to keep you coming back to discover more of the album’s secrets.
Triangle is not an album to put on as background music for some light dusting; it’s an album to listen to late at night, preferably through a pair of decent headphones, and completely surrender yourself to. The first time you hear it, you’ll probably be completely bemused, and maybe left a bit cold. The more you let yourself bathe in this unsettling aural shower, though, the more its weird beauty will captivate you – the sort of album you’ll keep coming back to without quite knowing why. If you’re willing to invest the time, this is the most beautifully strange journey you’ll take all year.