Album Review: Swedish serenity can have its own intrigue
Sumie Sumie (Bella Union)
HERE'S something radical. A young woman sits close to a microphone and sings gently, accompanied by sparse guitar picking, and the effect is more engaging than a squad of triumphalist, hyperactive, all-singing, all-dancing noise-mongers.
Sumie Nagano, from Sweden, says this approach to recording came about because, with small children, she couldn't make much noise as she worked on her songs at home in Gothenburg.
"I also love minimal and delicate music," she says. "It felt like a natural direction for me."
The compelling sense of intimacy captured on these 10 songs isn't completely accidental. Recorded in the Berlin studio of pianist Nils Frahm by avant-garde dream-pop conceptualist Dustin O'Halloran and Cocteau Twins polymath Simon Raymonde, Sumie's skeletal framework is set in an ambient trompe l'oeil soundscape where shimmering studio air becomes a major player.
Sumie's hushed confessional makes even Laura Veirs' splendid audio verite Carbon Glacier collection seem as brash as a line of can can dancers on a hen night in Blackpool.
These songs have a calming effect. Like viewing cherry blossoms or autumn woodlands.
As Sumie's tones and delicate melodies draw you in, an occasional thorny line emerges to add an undercurrent of disquiet.
"What's the point of pushing me down?" she sings on Never Wanted To Be. "I knew that you would die."
Sumie's lyrical skills are not her strongest suit. And so, at times, this sounds like a kindergarten interlude.
An overall hypnotic effect is created by having each song taken at a gentle trot. But, serenity aside, the repetitive relaxed tempo can have a numbing effect. A feature not helped by the lack of a stand-out song. One that late-night radio DJs might latch on to.
Still, this is a minor quibble. Taken in isolation, Haunting Sky and the lead-off release Show Talked Windows have their own intrigue.
Totally different in style to her sister Yukimi's breezy career in Little Dragon, Sumie employs gentle brushstrokes to define her musical personality. And has created a debut album of merit.