Album review: Susanna and Ensemble Neon – The Forester


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Susanna and Ensemble Neon – The Forester, album artwork

Fans of Nordic Noir will want to stick this album of slow, melancholy, spacious, eerily beautiful and austerely compelling chamber-folk on their Christmas list alongside the Arne Dahl boxset. Susanna Wallumrød is a Norwegian singer and composer whose collaborators include major ambient jazz pianist Tord Gustavson and alt country ledge Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. She’s best known for her slowcore covers of classic rock songs, not all of which are exactly triumphs. But this co-production with contemporary Norwegian group Ensemble Neon is her ninth album in as many years, and as original as they come.

If the melodies weren’t so gorgeous, you could call The Forester sound art. On the 15-minute title suite opener, woodwind, strings, piano and a long-necked Baroque theorbo lute conjure a lonely snow-covered landscape for Susanna’s cool and supremely collected voice to explore. The three-part composition tiptoes, then skips, then throbs to a stop, while violin harmonics hang glistening like frost drops on a spider’s web.

All in all, there’s something very Kate Bushy about Wallumrød. It’s not just the voice, but the strange, sensual stirrings of her imagination: ‘Lonely Heart’ asks you to put yourself in the emotional shoes of an oak tree, while ‘Intruder’ is addressed, with maternal warmth, to visiting aliens. The title track is creepier, its narrator lost in a forest with ‘earth in hands, dirt in mouth’.

As you may just have gathered, this isn’t an album for anytime, anywhere. It rewards your undivided attention, without which these compositions (including previous tracks newly arranged for Ensemble Neon) could seem aimless, or meagre, or plain dull. But listen in the spirit of the Slow Movement, buy into its chill Nordic atmosphere, and you could spend hours lost in the world of The Forester. Our one major criticism: it’s only 34 minutes long. 

By Bella Todd


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