Norway’s singer of siren songs unveils her new album aboard a raft on a fjord. By Kieron Tyler.
Susanne Sundfør FjordFlyt, Hov, Norway
Before her encore, a solo Susanne Sundfør prefaces her new album, Music For People In Trouble’s No One Believes In Love Anymore as a “very very sad song. You can have a laugh another time but, I’m sorry, I can’t help with that.” Earlier, in contrast, she was amused by the globular glass she’s been sipping from: “the world’s biggest glass of wine!” “Skål,” she chuckles while raising it. The weekend before midsummer’s day and two months from its release, Music For People In Trouble provides half the set’s 12 songs. Apart from lead-off single Undercover, nothing from the album is familiar to the 700 gathered at Kråkvika (crow bay), an inlet on the immense Randsfjorden lake. All ages are here. Some stand among the trees fringing the pebbly beach but most have folding chairs. Water lapping the shore becomes Sundfør’s rhythmic accompaniment. When boisterous beer boys on a nearby pleasure craft fall silent as her voice glides over the shimmering water, it’s that clear foreknowledge of what’s being played is unnecessary. The stage is a floating platform. Sundfør is playing Hov’s magical FjordFlyt – literally, ‘fjord float’. The festival is the brainchild of pianist/ composer and ECM artist Jon Balke, who lives locally. It’s supported by local businesses and the municipality, and everyone involved is a volunteer. It is all very Norwe gian. So is the decision to play here. In her home country, Sundfør is part of the high-end musical furniture. But if playing a resolutely local event two hours north of Oslo feels right, then it is right. She switches between upright piano (reaching the stage via wobbly boat), Fender Rhodes and acoustic guitar. Much of the sparse Music For People In Trouble dials down the beats and electronica framing her previous two studio albums, Ten Love Songs and The Silicone Veil, but it is not this unadorned. Today’s emphasis on the song is acknowledged by opening with Walls, from her explicitly singer-songwriter slanted debut album. Ten Love Songs’ Accelerate had been anthemic electropop but its solo piano reconfiguration is a grand, baroque ballad with unambiguously Rachmaninoffesque playing. Instead of performing them, she channels her songs. Despite a spectacularly creepy The Brothel – her second album’s title track figuratively clouds a glorious day – the new songs prevail. A rolling mantra, Reincarnation is driven by flamenco-like arpeggios. The undulation of Bedtime Story hints at a past fondness for Thom Yorke. The Sound Of War evokes early ’70s Neil Young at his most desolate. Then, there is Undercover. She has described it as a country ballad but such commanding singing was previously the province only of Whitney Houston. As the notes die, silence cloaks the bay. After the spell is broken, the applause deafens. In Accelerate, she sings, “It’s a siren song.” And, following this intense manifestation, it seems all-too probable Susanne Sundfør could lure sailors onto the rocks. Watch out then.