Acoustic Sounds

Susanne Sundfør




Label: Bella Union

Produced By: Jørgen Træen

Engineered By: Jørgen Træen

Mixed By: Jørgen Træen

Mastered By: Greg Calbi & Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound, NJ

Lacquers Cut By: Optimal Media In-House Cutting Engineer, "KR"

By: Nathan Zeller

July 17th, 2023



Susanne Sundfør’s Beautifully Intricate, Cross-Cultural “Blómi”

norway's hidden gem bedazzled this reviewer

People are hardly self-sustaining. Everyday life neglects and misaligns our spirit. Periodically, everyone must seek a spiritual tune up. Some read, some paint. Others meditate, chasing the unrivalled clarity silence offers. Most reading these words prefer music. Though not all artists create equal music. Many albums, while fun, are just that; lighthearted pleasure. Compelling music reorients its recipient. Of course, lighthearted pleasure isn’t especially compelling. Susanne Sundfør’s Blómi is. The Norwegian artist’s sixth studio album checks all boxes. It’s creative, inquisitive, and intricate, incorporating multiple cultures. Chiefly, Blómi certainly spiritually revitalises its listener.

Susanne Sundfør is a Norwegian treasure. In her homeland, Blómi marks her sixth consecutive top five album, the four preceding albums reaching number one. Her eponymous 2007 debut album closely follows, reaching number three. Blómi reached number two. Not too shabby. While her chart positions are similar, Blómi is a very different album. Before, two or three year gaps separated her releases. Blómi took six. Since Music for People in Trouble, her 2017 album, the artist’s life has drastically changed. Following an August 2020 announcement, Sundfør welcomed her first child. Two years later she married André Roligheten, a Norwegian saxophonist. These are monumental changes. “I feel like becoming a mom has made me more stressed and more relaxed at the same time,” says Sundfør. These differences surely affect her writing. According to the artist, her post-motherhood music is more sensual, expressing a different love. We’ve not yet seen this Susanne Sundfør.

Blómi wonderfully portrays Susanne Sundfør’s transfiguration. Although, first the listener must unravel their defences. “Orð Vǫlu,” the ambient spoken word opener, accomplishes this. Imitating Karlheinz Stockhausen’s post-war electronic music, producer Jørgen Træen crafts a disquieting, synthesised ambience. Contrasting the soundscape, Eline Vis performs a calm spoken word piece. She explores the spirit, describing it as a glistening black hole (“The black hole is dark, but it’s a glowing, beautiful darkness/Almost sparkling/And it is made of fluid intelligence/It is who you are”). The track prepares the listener’s spirit—a necessary process before the singer expresses her own. The listener must embrace its performative dichotomy, observing its balance. Once “Orð Vǫlu” establishes an appropriate mental perspective, Blómi’s thematic riches unfold.

Susanne Sundfør dedicates Blómi to her daughter and her grandfather, Kjell Aartun, a theologian and linguist. Family is perhaps the most prevalent theme, though it’s multi-faceted. “Ṣānnu Yārru Lī” illustrates Sundfør’s great admiration for her grandfather. A stunning showcase of mesmerising percussion, “Ṣānnu Yārru Lī” retells her grandfather’s ancient Greek disc interpretation. Her grandfather found the disc in The Temple of Hephaestus: the god of metalworkers, artisans, and blacksmiths. Fittingly, metal clings, rings, and booms comprise the percussive backing. “Ṣānnu Yārru Lī” not only celebrates her grandfather, but Greek history itself.

Of course, Susanne Sundfør isn’t only a granddaughter. “Ashera’s Song,” dedicated to Asherah, “the first mother,” explores motherhood. Featuring flowing piano and playful strings, the hymn worships motherhood and life’s continuity (“Let your people come/Death and beyond/Waning moon/Sail on, my love”). It even reuses Tao Te Ching lines, showing Greek history isn’t Sundfør’s only trick. Her ability to link philosophies exemplifies her magic. Sometimes, Sundfør writes more directly. The bluesy, sombre title track, written for her daughter, sings a hopeful tune. Sundfør insists her daughter show optimism no matter the world’s state (“It’s no wonder you’re cryin’, it feels like we’re dyin’” and “Walk on, walk on, for love, for love”). The rhythm section’s aloofness portrays the world’s state, whilst the saxophone solo’s unpredictable, exciting chord changes signify hope. Nevertheless, this song isn’t without her grandfather’s influence, referencing the Minoan culture (“What the hell is the purpose of all of this circus/When summer is here and the crocuses are in bloom,” understanding that Minoans worship the crocus flower). 

The title track isn’t the only social commentary. “Rūnā” criticises modern society’s aggressive separatism, suggesting we start anew (“Open your eyes and begin again”). She also criticises our collective technology overuse and overreliance, instead promoting nature (“They’ll try to force it/Metamorphosis/But everything aligns with/A mysterious purpose”). The tune’s ascending melodies and fantastical harmonies ooze optimism, ploughing the aforementioned issues. Similarly, “Leikara Ljóð” denounces lust and wealth obsession. Interestingly, Leikara Ljóð is an old Norse tale about deceitful men hiding amongst the brave, noble and well-intentioned men. The deceitful men sought only money and sexual pleasure. Susanne Sundfør cleverly honours the story. Rather than explicitly retell it, she mirrors it. Her triumphant, organic acapella performance buries the sickening story, making it also “hidden in plain sight.” It inspires another social comment; malevolence lurks where one least expects it. It always will. 

Playing along, “Fare Thee Well” suggests Susanne Sundfør and deceit are close. Written decades ago, the bittersweet track depicts a gruelling relationship’s finale. She describes a liar, though not bitterly. She almost praises the partner’s poor actions, appreciating the alarms they set off (“Don’t regret all the lies you told me before/No, no”). It’s Blómi’s most straightforward song, but a necessary one. It’s a narrative pillar.

Susanne Sundfør spent much of her twenties single. “Fare Thee Well,” describing an enlightening young relationship, might explain why. From a present-day perspective, “Náttsǫngr” revisits her lonely years and the fear surrounding their potential return. To Sundfør, her present-day romance is a dream. Consequently, she constantly fears “waking up” (“Am I sleep walking, sleep walking/Baby, keep talking and/Sing me your best lullaby”). Though by the song’s end, her courage prevails. She embraces her new love, her “new light.” “Alyosha” complements the track, introducing her “new light” and its splendour. Translating to “defender,” everything circles to “Alyosha”: the song celebrating Sundfør’s husband. Without him, Blómi’s inspiration—Sundfør’s newfound family—wouldn’t exist.

At the album’s end, Blómi bids Susanne Sundfør, her insight, and her magnificent music ado. “Orð Hjartans,” the ambient opener’s second coming, rekindles the listener’s spirit “for the road.” “If the heart has a word, what would it be,” asks Eline Vis. Concluding the emotionally revitalising Blómi, she answers: “Yes, it’s yes to everything.” Blómi’s final words are an instruction. Keep your heart open and welcome new opportunities.

With sound quality, it seems Susanne Sundfør followed her own album’s advice. To all the right things, she said yes. The sonic presentation exudes spaciousness, suiting Blómi’s free and euphoric content. Low frequencies (drum strikes, bass melodies, and synthesisers) pack a punch, though not distractingly so. It sounds exceptionally well-rounded, supporting a lifelike and believable presentation. Guitars appear wonderfully vibrant with superb decay. Sundfør’s textured vocals exemplify sublime height, depth, and detail. During Blómi’s sonic highlights, Sundfør is there. Her husband’s saxophone solos sound gorgeously rich and reedy. The engineer even captured the saxophone’s pads, which constantly open and close. The detail level is simply top notch.

Conversely, the physical product is fairly mediocre. The gatefold jacket looks quite poor. While the front and back panels are clear, the inner panels—displaying ancient Semitic artwork—look notably blurry. It’s painfully obvious. Perhaps it’s a bad scan/photo. Still, gatefolds cost more and this one isn’t worth the price. In a sturdy cardstock inner lyric sleeve one finds the 182 gram black disc. While Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone mastered the digital file used to produce the record exceptionally well, frequent surface noise plagues the quieter moments. As well, the cardstock inner sleeve left a tangential scuff, which left a sour taste. A poly-lined inner sleeve was a missed opportunity. The deadwax initials, “KR,”—an anonymous Optimal Media cutting engineer—indicate it’s an Optimal Media mastering and pressing. Mediocre pressing quality irrefutably limits the experience. Yet with an experience this fantastic, it’s hardly tragic.

Susanne Sundfør's Blómi is fully bloomed fine art. It’s compelling from start to finish, touching the listener’s heart and tuning its very strings. Brimming with stupendous harmony, terrific folk, daring electronic originals and pro-peace poetry, Blómi is an intentional masterwork. It deserves a spotlight, effortlessly illuminating the world’s current shortcomings whilst paving the path home. Now to tuck away the electronics, connect with nature, and soothe the soul.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: BLOM01

Pressing Plant: Optimal Media GmbH

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-07-17 08:58:59 PM

    Anton wrote:

    Man, that's a great review. I mean really great. Also, thanks for the link at the end. It's nice to read to the end and get an easy click, it feels like a present. (Get ready to hear this at audio shows, too!) At my advanced age, everything seems recursive and bits of music trigger reverie of past similar songs: it's killing me but that piano is positively redolent of another song that's in my head, but my mental Rolodex can't quite pull the card. (Could it be a snippet of Keith Jarret rattling around in my brain? No, it's a song with lyrics. Dang.) Anyway, thanks again, I will buy this.

    • 2023-07-17 11:19:56 PM

      Anton wrote:

      OK, apologies in advance. Seriously, left field. There is some sort of note sequencing that I am pretty sure is too obtuse, but there is a certain shared je ne sais quoi for me between this piano line and Spoon’s ‘The Beast and the Dragon, Adored.’ The piano line in both create a ‘falling into chaos’ feeling that’s similar…and remind me a bit of William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” But, that could just be the Hunter S Thompson substances talking. It’s all connected. ;-D

  • 2023-07-22 10:04:30 AM

    doak wrote:

    Thank you,, was unaware of this fantastic artist. l sense an acquisition spree approaching.