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Susanna Wallǿumrod - Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene

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Artist: Susanna Wallǿumrod

Album: Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene

Label: Grappa

Review date: Nov. 22, 2011

With her Magical Orchestra, Susanna Wallǿumrod has made some of the 2000s most haunting music, transforming over-heard chestnuts like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” into evocative, nearly otherworldly experiences. She has, up to now, seemed strongest as an interpreter. Her last album with The Magical Orchestra, 3, was mostly originals and mostly fairly forgettable electro pop. With Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene, Wallumrǿd sets herself to the task of interpreting the work of one of Norway’s leading modern poets, Gunvor Hofmo, whose earliest published work “Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene,” or “I Want to Go Home to the People,” provides the album’s title.

Hofmo is well known in Norway, but far less so in the United States. She came of age as a poet during World War II and saw a close friend and editor deported to Auschwitz. From the 1940s on, Hofmo suffered from depression and, later, schizophrenia. From 1955 to 1971, she was institutionalized and did not write at all, a period known as her 16 years of silence. Upon her release in 1971, she returned to poetry and published 15 more collections before her death in 1995. She is revered in her home country for an intense, visionary engagement with life’s horrors and beauties. (At least this is what the Norwegians say. The internet doesn’t seem to have any English translations of her verse, and Wallumrǿd offers no help in this regard. The packaging for Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene includes the original verse, in Norwegian only.)

Yet even without any hints about the songs’ subjects, it’s easy to intuit strong emotional crosscurrents in the way that Wallumrǿd composes and performs her material. The lines are irregularly shaped -- no A/B/A/B couplets here -- following shadowy, wandering paths through tense arrangements of rock guitar, drums and piano. These arrangements are a good bit more fleshed out than the ones on The Magical Orchestra’s Melody Mountain, played by a collection of Norwegian experimental artists that includes Stale Storlǿkken (Supersilent), Hans Magnus Ryan (Motorpsycho), Joe Berger Myhre (Solvigh Slettahjell) and Erland Dahlen of Madrugada. Given each’s background, the tones of these tracks vary enormously. Some – the quasi-title track “Jeg Vil Hjem” for instance – are couched in the guitar-soloing, drum pounding rock idioms. “Rop Ikke Etter Ilden” has the slow, heavy guitar attack of Rockin’ the Free World-era Neil Young. Yet other cuts, “Det Skjer”, are spare and subtle, Wallumrǿd’s voice bounded by the softest touches of percussion and guitar.

Wallumrǿd is, as always, immensely flexible, slithering bonelessly over multiple notes in a single breath, varying in force from an unrestrained belt to a whisper. She is just as capable of the diva-ish swagger of “I En Mork Natt” (she sounds a bit like Tori Amos on this one) as of the breathy purity of “Hva Fanger Natten.” And as a melodist, she often takes an unexpected turn, capping rock-like lines with sidestepping, jazz-infused half-steps.

Hofmo’s poetry, too, seems to have unleashed something in Wallumrǿd. She sings with a good deal of gut and passion, going much further out on the emotional scale than she ever did in her Magical Orchestra material. Her take on “It’s a Long Way to the Top” sounded like AC/DC had died and, (unexpectedly) gone to heaven. It was weightless, sweatless, disembodied. By contrast, her Hofmo material is grounded in struggle and feeling, full -- even in its most delicate moments -- of strong emotions. Entirely in Norse, tethered to a little-known Norwegian poet, Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene should, by all indicators, be the most opaque of Wallumrǿd’s albums. Instead, it’s the one where you finally get a sense of her as a human being.

By Jennifer Kelly

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