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Any hipster would be justified in wearing a “Norwegians Do It Better” T-shirt right now. Old Norse peepz may populate cult TV shows (Vikings, The Originals), but their descendants are busy raiding club culture and conquering iPods.
In 2014 Röyksopp united with Sweden’s Robyn for their poppiest and danciest fare to date on the Do It Again EP. Todd Terje, a member of Norway’s space disco trinity alongside Lindström and Prins Thomas, dropped the acclaimed, if idiosyncratic, It’s Album Time.
Another Nordic DJ, Cashmere Cat is producing R&Bass for everybody from Ariana Grande to Tinashe to Kanye West. Among the year’s buzz stars is Bergen teen Aurora Aksnes, her alt-pop tune Runaway praised by Katy Perry via Twitter.
Susanne Sundfør is no newcomer, issuing her first (folksy) album back in 2007. Nevertheless, while she’s a household name in Norway, coming into her own with 2010’s electro-serviced The Brothel, Sundfør hasn’t made headway abroad. This despite her voyaging with the aforementioned Röyksopp (the viral Running To The Sea), M83 (the theme to Tom Cruise’s sci-fi vehicle Oblivion) and Kleerup.
And so Ten Love Songs represents Sundfør’s strike for global success. Last year’s single Fade Away boded well – imagine if Giorgio Moroder had created disco for ABBA in the ’80s, only for Calvin Harris to remix it. In fact, Fade Away might be a comeback for an earlier Norwegian starlet Annie, who blew up in the late ’90s with The Greatest Hit.
Annie has since collaborated with Brit Richard X, electroclash’s most intriguing character, and, coincidentally, Sundfør has recruited him to remix her latest single, the contagious Delirious.
The catch is that Sundfør is too much of a transgressor to even pretend to be a blithe Annie-type. Instead the singer’s ambitions, and dark moods, rival those of FKA twigs. Indeed, the title Ten Love Songs is misleading: its numbers are less about romantic than obsessive love – or just hate, fury and catharsis. Sundfør has produced the bulk of it herself, bringing in the TrondheimSolistene chamber ensemble.
The saga begins with the otherworldly Darlings, laden with melancholy, churchy harmonium. Sundfør then breaks out Accelerate, tough electro-pop that joins the dots between Eurythmics, circa Missionary Man, The Knife and Zola Jesus, with a random interval given over to strings.
Kamikaze is unexpectedly upfront and bangin’. Still, it’s more like the invitation to a secret Scandinavian forest rave than an opportunistic superclub takeover. Insects is industrial and feral.
Sundfør’s emotions are as volatile as her music. Silencer is folksily orchestral (there’s some pretty harp), but ultimately akin to an abstract Morricone soundtrack snatch, delicate arrangements are juxtaposed with threatening lyrics involving a gun. (Don’t mess with a shield-maiden.)
The record’s apex is the popera Memorial, which, at 10 minutes, opens as a conventional power ballad before transforming into a convincing Bond theme and then light classical. It could pass as a wildcard Eurovision entry. (Peculiarly, Sundfør’s co-conspirator here is again M83’s Anthony Gonzalez.) The Scandi diva reunites with Röyksopp for Slowly, calmer ’80s synth-pop.
Ten Love Songs is an enthralling album, but, most significantly, it has what the likes of Florence + The Machine often lack: melodicism and scope to heighten the drama.
Listen: Susanne Sundfør – Delirious