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Recommended listening

Susanna and the Magical Orchestra - Melody Mountain

This album is truly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. It is so rich in authenticity and emotional feeling, despite the fact that these songs are actually covers.

Part of the reason the emotion comes through so well is through the simplicity of the arrangements. There’s a guy on a synth/piano/harpsichord/keyboard (Morten Qvenild), and there’s a beautiful and extremely talented singer (Susanna Karolina WallumrĂžd). That’s it. The production is high quality and allows the music to do all the talking. There is no multi-layered orchestra, there are no backing singers, no layered vocals, no percussion, no beats. Anyone looking for a contemporary pop record, or expecting to find the usual ‘cover’ treatment will find something unexpected here.

Despite these songs being covers, the duo make each track their own. There are extremely odd choices and interpretations, but each one works brilliantly. Susanna’s vocal delivery and Morten’s delicate score makes each track feel extremely personal, deep, and emotional. If you’ve ever heard Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ you will be aware of how a cover can be taken and changed into something completely different, something every bit as powerful and more than the original. Something that resonates at a deeper emotional pitch. Every track here achieves the same effect.

It’s a slow burning ember of an album, and I adore it for its simplicity, beauty, and ability to speak directly to my soul. I recommend this album to any music fan, but beware those looking for easy-access pop, or expecting to hear music even vaguely similar to the original tracks from which these covers are taken. You’ll need an open mind to hear this properly. You won’t go far wrong blacking out the room and lighting a candle or two while you listen either.

Sleepthief - The Dawnseeker

This is an album I’ve been waiting for Amazon to get back in stock for months, and finally got my hands on only this week. If you like smooth synth tracks, trancey beats, and luscious female vocals then this album is one for you. It is extremely smooth, and very beautiful - similar in vein to Delerium offerings, but less dance orientated. It features vocals from eleven different ladies and often goes for that ‘top of a mountain, sweeping camera shot’ sort of beauty, rather than the melancholy aspect that might be expected (especially considering the lyrics). At once very relaxing and oddly invigorating, it’s very easy to get lost in the musical sound-scape on offer. The pedigree of tracks on offer helps to ensure that no one can be singled out as ‘the best’, and the lyrics throughout are second to none, this is poetry set to music. It also has some of the nicest package art I’ve seen in a long time. The only slight criticism of the album would be that it’s almost in danger of feeling a little over-produced. Check out the first single: Eurydice. Though you should probably ignore the extremely cheesy and tone-lowering video.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

I bought this album as part of a new-year resolution to try random stuff that I normally wouldn’t. Punk is not my ‘thing’, and it’s been quite a while since I last listened to guitar lead thrashy rock stuff. Possibly the most similar thing in my back-catalog would be the first Garbage album - which should give you some guidance as to where I’m coming at this album from.

I was pleasantly surprised by Show Your Bones. It’s got an energy that’s quite captivating, and doesn’t take itself too seriously or too flippantly. Phenomena is my favorite track, easily accessible and refusing to budge from my head all day after hearing it.

I’ve found the album managing to appear in my CD player a surprising number of times, but unfortunately it doesn’t sustain my attention all the way through, which is disappointing given the strong opening tracks. By the eighth or ninth track I’ve gotten a little bored from a lack of variation in the sound (there’s only so many ways to play music where the tone of the guitars, singing, and constant cymbals never seem to change).

An album worth getting to for sure, but not one of my favorites. As a completely irrelevant side note, Karen O is mighty cute lookin’.

Kirsty Hawkshaw - Meta Message

After hearing a lot of Kirsty featured in various ‘other artist’ albums her vocal quality impressed me enough to buy one of her own albums. It’s been a rocky ride trying to get on with this album though, because it’s not what I was expecting. She’s possibly best recognized for her performances with DJ Tiesto on the tracks “Battleship Grey” and ”Just Be”. The very first thing that threw me was that the version of “Just Be” which opens Meta Message is not the Tiesto version. And, as most people will know, any Tiesto mix is neigh-on unbeatable. The version on Meta Message simply isn’t as good as Tiesto’s version - and that immediately got me disappointed, quite possibly coloring my enjoyment of the rest of the album on first listen. Fortunately I’ve given the album a few more chances and it’s starting to grow on me.

The second track is a James Holden mix of the classic “Fine Day”, which does a lot to recover from the disappointment of the first track, yet still doesn’t equal some of the better mixes I’ve heard. The third song “reach for me” was a major disappointment, feeling like the sort of two-minute-to-write ‘rock’ smush that drives angst ridden teeny-bopper girls to reach for their wallets in order to part with cash and credibility. Track four is an improvement, and I could see it quite happily gracing a Hed Kandi Winter Chill. Things get properly back on track with the ‘everyone knows it’ version of “walking on clouds”, the pulsating energy and airy vocals feeling like the powerful relief of touching dry land after spending a few minutes flying at 5,000ft in the Wright brothers aeroplane.

As it turns out, it’s only the first half of the CD which presents problems. The second half is really very good, culminating in one of my favorite chill-out tunes ever (and one that really did grace a Hed Kandi Winter Chill CD) - “Whisper”. I suspect that if you’ve not heard the Tiesto versions of the tracks on here, you’ll find much to like. There’s only one genuinely poor track on the album, and that’s “Reach For Me”.

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