It would not be surprising to hear that Susanne Sundfør possesses magical powers. Though her style is electronic interlaced with folk, there is an ethereal element to this Norwegian artist’s music that feels beyond compare. A couple of artists—Joanna Newsom and Damien Jurado—have this similar strength within their folk. These musicians produce more than an atmosphere. They create the air of a desert town or the roughness of castle walls. Sundfør decides to diverge from creating this ethereal electronica in favor of quieter and introspective folk on her fifth studio album Music for People in Trouble.
The sound has slightly changed, yet the tragedy and romance remain in Sundfør’s angelic voice. Music for People in Trouble more so resonates a similar experimental sound to the music of Jenny Hval. The gentleness of this album is not indicative of weakness, but instead of the desire to be candid and vicarious with its audience. There is a line that penetrates so deeply, despite its simplicity:
“What am I but a bad story you tell her?” Found on “Bedtime Story”, this lyric hits hard because of the mood created through piano keys and brass. Every alteration of the volume is a blow of wind that can fell a house of cards. It is tragedy that makes this record strong.
What makes Sundfør’s tragedy so different is how flexible she is in taking on different genres. Each subtle inclusion of country twang or soul shows an artist that can provide variation to pop. The calming emptiness of “Mantra” is the foundation for what would be the booming “Mountaineers”. The journey to that pleasing loudness is spaced in-between tracks that channel spirituality and humanity. There’s an undeniable calmness to Sundfør’s voice that indicates her settlement and place within the world. She feels like the wind going along with other gusts.
Music for People in Trouble demonstrates that a simple change in polyphonic texture can bring an intensity that highlights vocal tone. “Reincarnation” shows this by shifting tempos and bringing different strings to the mix. “Undercover” and “Mountaineer” tread differently, instead implementing an intense vocal shift through a soulful choir. The sound pushes like a force field, confronting a sense of loneliness established by sorrowful lyrics and quiet.
What hampers the record is its dabbling in the experimental. The glitchy title track drags listeners away from the immersion of solace for a minute. A man speaks, says, “Life is ready to happen / And to unfold / And we are just a vessel.” His introspection shifts our focus into something less grounded. The atmosphere audiences have settled in has been removed, and getting back to solid ground becomes disorienting. “The Sound of War” suffers from this ailment when it becomes a wall of white noise. Perhaps this confusion is a moment of purposeful, literal trouble. It takes listeners out of a headspace of calm and into one of dense distraction.
Music for People in Trouble is poetry without being poetry. It is one of the gentlest excursions of art pop to come this year. Susanne Sundfør might have perfected a sound she has been searching for.
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