Review Summary: Scandinavia's music industry is having an impressive year.
There's clearly something in the air - between this, Grimes, iamamiwhoami, EMA, Grouper, Jenny Hval, Chelsea Wolfe, Julianna Barwick, Little Brother, tUnE-yArDs, Leni Ward, Julia Holter, Joanna Newsom, and the return of Fiona Apple, we're experiencing a golden age of quirky female auteurs with considerable individuality and sonic ambition. Long may it continue.
What distinguishes Susanne Sundfør from the rest of the pack, if only slightly, is the way that her own vision of art pop focuses on the pop as much as the art. Okay, so it's not exactly something you'd expect to hear on drivetime radio, but the production and the mixing of The Silicone Veil
pushes Susanne Sundfør's voice out front, making every word she sings clear and legible in a way that's subtly unusual for this vague trend, where the normal voices are drenched in an ocean of reverb and the rest are generally encouraged to ham up their idiosyncrasies. Sundfør takes this clarity as an opportunity to soar, with wide leaps into her upper register becoming something of a trademark as the album wears on - the impression you get is that, while she doesn't have the most distinctive voice in the world, she does have one that would suit almost any genre, which is a virtue in itself.
Yet while her voice feels like the album's main strength on first listen, it doesn't take long to appreciate how good the music is here. The mood is consistent, wistful and pretty, but the sound touches on all sorts of bases -opener "Diamonds" feels like a relative of the This Mortal Coil version of "Song to the Siren" at first before moving into more exotic territory with Lisa Gerrard-esque Eastern-tinged melodies and frantic percussion, the excellent lead single "White Foxes" weds portentous piano to bubbling synths (as with a few tracks here, it reminds me a little of the better moments on The Gathering's If_Then_Else
), "Rome" rides a throaty sawtooth synth line at times and a string quartet at others, the constantly rolling "Can You Feel the Thunder" co-opts some of Joanna Newsom's airiness, and the orchestral, instrumental "Meditations in an Emergency" could have been part of a Howard Shore film score. And that's just the first half.
Impressively, this all works an album, hanging together more naturally than any description would suggest. The first time it starts to feel a little odd is on the sixth track, "Among Us", which opens with some synths that suggest a much softer version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" before some off-kilter sliding strings come in. They're a little offputting, but Sundfør just about pulls it together when the vocals come in - and that is pretty much the only mis-step anywhere on the album. The consistency of mood and quality is little short of astounding, particularly as she is a big fan of introducing a completely new element halfway through a song to kick it into a new gear (see "The Silicone Veil", "Your Prelude", "Diamonds", and even the way "White Foxes" transitions into its chorus), a trick rarely conducive to this kind of atmosphere.
Carefully orchestrated, beautiful sung, and imaginatively written; I hadn't even heard the name Susanne Sundfør a week before I first heard this album, and yet The Silicone Veil
falls so comfortably into my own tastes that I feel as if I've known about her for years. With a little more exposure, she has the potential to be a star.