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In her native Norway Susanne Sundfør is indeed a massively popular singer, her idiosyncratic 2012 electro-chamber album The Silicone Veil sold more than any other that year, but does this mean her music is pop? A question that Sundfør has also pondered as Ten Love Songs is an explicit attempt for her to record a pop album, a subjective task based predominately on context and translation. What is not in doubt is that this album, Sundfør’s fifth, has clearly been a mammoth and mainly independent creative undertaking and the results are frequently little short of breath taking.
Sundfør has a clear, classical voice which gives her material a heightened ‘musical’ feel and it would be incorrect to describe the majority of songs here are as particularly contemporary or fashionable sounding, having instead a more timeless appeal much like that of the artists she appears to revere and reference. ‘Slowly’ for example has the same lurching cod-reggae thump as Abba’s ‘One of Us’ and the two-handed, electro-disco throbbing punch of ‘Accelerate’ which segues into the gorgeously cooing ‘Fade Away’ is reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder’s sequencing and production on Donna Summer’s seminal, late ’70s double albums. All well and good sonically then but Sundfør’s mark is further reinforced with her expert song writing, complex but accessible with arrangements that constantly make the heart jump and swell.
‘Delirious’, which gradually launches itself melodramatically from a string-induced countdown, sounds equally reminiscent of something she could have made as the frequent go-to muse of Royksopp or M83 as it does a high-octane Andrew Lloyd Webber show song. ‘Silencer’ is an ethereal, acoustic folk ballad with volatile string sections that draw an opposing fairy-tale darkness and album closer ‘Insects’ positions itself at the opposite end of pretty with gurgling, droning synths and alarms endlessly and unsuccessfully trying to suffocate Sundfør’s choir of voices. First track ‘Darlings’ even sounds like a sea shanty but under its conductors expert supervision and ear for an intriguing detail it’s a surprisingly cohesive set and one that is warmer and less imposing sonically than what she has previously produced.
Positioned just off-centre of Ten Love Songs, song number 6 is its one misstep. To dismiss it as a serviceable album track would be the tendency but seeing as Memorial, with its imposing title and 10 minute running time, appears to be a pivotal track at least for Sundfør and it is hard to avoid. With a repeated refrain of ‘you took my dress off and never put it on again’ a betrayal of expectation and end of a relationship are apparent with electronic drums and keyboards flaring up like a forgotten power ballad that has all but lost its battle gear. The second half of the track is a classical coda that seems tagged on for no apparent reason as it’s aspirations for a Kate Bush Tori Amos-like opus are just too polite and ultimately bland to make the intended impact.
It’s unlikely that either this album or any of the subsequent singles released from it will sell in numbers that come anywhere near matching the likes of Taylor Swift, Arianna Grande or even Sundfør’s Swedish sister Robyn – these artists are pop stars. In this respect, Ten Love Songs hasn’t met its brief, as it’s too wilful and occasionally avant-garde to be considered a pure pop album. Swift already set herself this objective with last year’s omnipresent 1989, and ticked all the boxes with an airy confidence in the process. Instead what Susanne Sundfør has delivered is an eccentric, expertly written and for the main part, self- produced set of Ten Love Songs which are fascinatingly structured and beautifully sung throughout – her best album yet.