Susanne Sundfør: Music for People in Trouble

Susanne Sundfør is quiet and loud in her introspection, creating an album that is flexible in its sound and glorious in its self-meditation.

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.

Susanne Sundfør

Music for People in Trouble

Label: Bella Union
US Release Date: 2017-09-08

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.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.