Susanne Sundfr

Susanne Sundfr
Event on 2015-05-21 20:00:00

So, its definite, then These are the words that open Susanne Sundfrs extraordinary new album, Ten Love Songs. Casual but incredibly bleak, the inquiry sets the scene for a record that looks unblinkingly at the contradictions, hopes and fears, and the capacity both for rapture and betrayal that the human heart encompasses. Musically, the ambiguously titled album pulls Susanne closer to pop terrain than she has been before. Yet it also sings with the artistic freedom that has always characterised her work. Barring three tracks Accelerate, on which she worked with Jonathan Bates, aka Big Black Delta; Memorial, with Anthony Gonzalez of M83; and Silencer, which saw her reunited with her long-time collaborator Lars Horntveth the album was self-produced. I wanted to feel a sense of independence in what I was doing, Susanne says, and I had very strong opinions about how it should sound. Its something Ive wanted to do since my early twenties, and I think I felt ready to prove to myself that I could actually do it. Ive always had this insecurity about being completely independent in what I do and maybe generally in life, too. But Ive also felt this very strong desire to be free. So I think I needed some confirmation that I could do it. On some level, it is a very personal album; and given the themes, I wanted to do it exactly my own way.The albums centrepiece is the 10-minute Memorial. A giant song whose first section gives way to a heartbreakingly beautiful and forlorn fantasia for chamber orchestra and piano that, though wordless, expresses longing, dejection and pain as powerfully as any words could, Memorial epitomises the ambition of the album as a whole. And its central refrain You took off my dress and you never put it on again captures the vulnerability, self-knowledge and candour at the heart of Susannes songwriting. People try to describe their emotions with numbers today, and in terms of science, which I feel is like the religion of today. It is very taboo to be a vulnerable person. Its almost like the biggest weakness today is to be a human being, because everything around us is about perfection, as if were trying to be like robots. Its sort of what Radiohead were portraying on Ok Computer, and now its actually happening. If I listen to music or read books where people are saying, Im very human, I feel a lot of things, bad things, good things, thats what touches me. I definitely didnt intend the song to be that long, but when I was working on it, I knew it needed to continue, that it didnt make sense for it to end sooner. I worked on the first part with Anthony, and he transformed it into a massive 80s ballad. Hes a genius, I think.The 80s are a touchstone throughout Ten Love Songs. If there are moments in Memorial that call to mind Freddie Mercurys infamously flamboyant operatic duet with Montserrat Caballe on Barcelona, that suits Susanne just fine. I love Queen, and Freddie Mercury. I saw Live Aid when I was about 18, they broadcast it on one of the channels in Norway and I was just sucked towards the screen when he came on stage. His charisma was insane. The solo on Fade Away was also very inspired by Queen. Such references were very conscious, she says. The song Kamikaze is just one among several instances of pops textural and structural architecture informing the music, its huge canvas and furious propulsion recalling Madonnas Like a Prayer. If thats how people react, I dont mind that sort of compliment at all, Susanne laughs. Kamikaze is a pop song, for sure. And thats what I wanted to create on this album; I wanted to be more mainstream. Not in the sense of the sound, but in terms of expression. There is something about pop songs that, to me, hits me more than any other types of song do. Ive been a sucker for pop music since I was a little girl, and Ive always wanted to make a pop record. So I guess this is my attempt!As ever with Susanne, though, this attempt is constantly being subverted, as her experimental inclinations blur the pop picture. Delirious is a prime example. Another huge song, it conjures up a sense of a battle, between melodic conformity and textural abandon. The vocal hooks and pulsating synth bass drive the track in one direction, the chilling choir and menacing ascending strings (played, as they are elsewhere on the album, by Trondheimsolistene) drag it back down into darkness, as the lyrics I hope youve got a safety net, 'cause Im going to push you over the edge turn the screw. This tension has long been a feature of Susannes work: melodic purity locked in a struggle with a creativity that obeys no rules.The album also contains elements of humour though, albeit of a dark variety. Take for instance Susannes description of the percussion on Kamikaze. I found gunshot samples on the internet. There is actually this drum machine that has a separate drum kit called Armageddon. Its my favourite kit, lots of gunshots and grenades and bombs, and its fun just to run through all the sounds, its like mayhem in your ears. I met this guy in New York who makes synthesizers, Leon Dewan, and asked him to make plane-crash sounds, which is what you hear on Kamikaze. There are a lot of war sounds, and imagery, on the record.Alongside the aggression is a noticeable degree of vulnerability. Darlings, the hymnal opening track, sees Susanne sing with heartbreaking openness over a wheezing harmonium. And the penultimate song, Trust Me, is, both lyrically and musically, almost too much to bear. You cannot replace me, she sings, before the choir ascends, until the song ends on a chord of absolute bleakness and desolation. Lyrically, I think Trust Me is one of the most interesting songs, says Susanne, because it talks about relationships in a way thats not necessarily positive or loving, but theres still a lot of love there. I really wanted to portray different aspects of relationships. I prefer to read or hear or see aspects of humanity that arent always mainstream or correct. Is she aware that people may treat the album as autobiographical? Well, that makes sense, in a way, she replies. Love is very personal, but its also universal everyone feels it. You cant go through life without loving someone, or youre not a human being. To me, love isnt always what it seems. The interesting thing for me about the album is that when I first started to work on it, I wanted to make an album about violence, and then, as I was writing the songs, there were violent aspects, but they were usually about love or relationships, how you connect with other people. And in the end, that turned out to be 10 love songs.After an intensive period of collaborations with Anthony Gonzalez on the song Oblivion, for the film of the same name, starring Tom Cruise; with Ryksopp, on last years Running to the Sea single, and covering Depeche Modes Ice Machine for the duos Late Night Tales compilation; remixing Maps single AMA; and, most recently producing The Urge Drums, the first album by the Canadian-Norwegian duo Bow to Each Other Susanne has now answered the call of her own muse. Her journey to this point has been a fascinating and absorbing one: among the staging posts have been the melodious pop of Take One, the radical left turn of The Brothel and the majestic, swirling, stormy electronica of The Silicone Veil. But Ten Love Songs is arguably her most compelling and fully realised work yet. The fact that it ends with Insects, a sinister, predatory, disturbing song that is somehow both sensual and dystopian, seems fitting. This is what happens when we forget to love, Susanne seems to be saying. So Ten Love Songs begins with a lament and ends with a stark reminder of a world without love. Love and hate are closer than we want to think they are, she says. Susannes new album negotiates that thinnest of lines fearlessly. If courage is a crucial factor in great art, she has it, in spades. What Ten Love Songs cost her, we cant know. But we have a duty, surely, to jump into the fray, too, and without fear.Susanne Sundfr will release Ten Love Songs on 16th February 2015, through Sonnet Sound via Kobalt

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