REVIEW: Susanna and Splashgirl at Cafe Oto

Susanna at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


Susanna and Splashgirl
Cafe Oto, 19 April 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston

Susanna (Wallumrød), originally from Kongsberg in Norway, is an intriguing amalgam, at root an old-school singer-songwriter with a tremendous voice, at home at the piano, yet she resolutely treads the dark side with a morbidly Gothic sensibility, crossing the more unsettling side of Kate Bush and the offbeat spin of Joni Mitchell with lyrics that won't lie down and don't let the listener settle in a comfortable zone.

Her band at Cafe Oto was a family affair. Her trio, last seen at the Vortex (reviewed), with husband Helge Sten (guitar) and brother Fredrik Wallumrød (drums) was augmented by fellow-Norwegians Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano, electronics), and Jo Berger Myhre (bass) from Splashgirl, the evening’s opening band.

Susanna added extra edge to songs from her new album, Triangle, by judicious use of wavering electronic distortion on her voice. Just enough, never overpowering, to allow her vocal warmth and agility to shine through.

Løwe, and Sten - of power doom band, Supersilent, and producer at Rune Grammofon, Susanna's original label before she launched the Susanna Sonata label - summoned layers of gritty gravitas to further distress the delivery, reinforcing the dark themes which anchor this collection of songs.

"There's a lot of craziness on this album, I guess," declared Susanna. The inherent contradiction of seemingly solid pop songs in structure and melodic style, undermined by gloomier preoccupations, cast them, perhaps, as impure pop, rather than pure pop.

The ominous tone was built up in the songs' lyrics. An outright statement of alienation in the opener, We Don't Belong, and then invocations of the shadowy world. ‘Black is where my soul lives', from Hole, 'I belong to the darkness, I belong to the sea', from Burning Sea, and 'I came around to scare you' from This/Phenomena, with its the chilling atmosphere, reminiscent of Tom Waits' House Where Nobody Lives. Imagery of the transcendent, the subterranean, of revolution, fire, riot, and death were mixed with flashes of colour in Purple to round out an intense, brightly executed and generously extended set.

Jazz-pop trio, Splashgirl, wove folk themes into a mellow, acoustic-electronic confection, with hints of EST, to kick off proceedings with finely-wrought craft.

LINK: Review - Susanna and Jessica Sligter in Oslo 

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