Susanna Wallumrød's voice is a paragon of syrupy elegance, but her weapon of choice is pregnant silence. Her debut occupies a crawlspace between austerity and total vacancy, both tonally and thematically; her songs are the kind meant to communicate by their lack of affect how much emotional depth has remained off the page. Starkness is a tricky instrument, though, and stillness gets oppressive without some momentum to counter it. The elements at play on Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, cold and pristine as items in a museum, suffocate before they can harmonize.
The record's airless production (courtesy of Rune Grammofon in-house tweaker Deathprod) is surely responsible in part, but it's not just texture that makes it so surprisingly unconvincing: each individual part comes across with great clarity and a certain immediacy. The bigger trouble is that these parts only coincide and rarely coalesce. Wallumrød's lush, wavering voice lingers on simple matters of angst alongside exploratory piano patterns, or stiflingly simple guitar lines, while various otherworldly tones drift in and out. They're all rendered with conviction, but share a frustratingly tenuous relationship. On most of the record each component sounds unconcerned with its neighbors, though occasionally – as in "Intruder" and "People Living" – they sound afraid of one another. When one expands in a pleasing direction, it doesn't take the whole song with it.
Two exceptions, "Stay" and "Better Days," show how powerful these elements can be with a little continuity. They start slow and still, but they gather and sustain momentum, and use empty space sparingly – they earn their languor, then transcend it. The rest of the time, Wallumrød uses lyrical repetition and dynamic fluctuations as placeholders for melodic and figurative tension, and silence as a substitute for resolution. Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos passes slowly and captivates rarely; meaning is difficult to get across by omission, and sometimes less is just less.