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susanna and the magical orchestra - 3
When Susanna & The Magical Orchestra first hit the scene in 2003 they arrived at Rune Grammofon with an album packed with exquisite songwriting and darkly immersive Deathprod production, their crowning achievement being the eerily quiet, massively emotive 'Believer', a kind of frosty Nordic country song that slotted alongside their acclaimed cover of 'Jolene' perfectly. Sadly, it seemed that the fuss over that reinterpretation might have contributed to the duo's next move: a whole album full of covers, which seemed to coincide with all manner of other artists hopping on the same overcrowded bandwagon. Too many self-consciously genre-bending renditions of classic songs meant that it all became tiresome very quickly - in fact, you might even go so far as to say that between Melody Mountain, Jose Gonzalez and Nouvelle Vague, the art of the cover version has well and truly been killed off. Tellingly, all three of the above can be attached to renovations of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', mind you of the three, only one act thought it'd sound better with a bossa nova overhaul... While both Susanna Wallumrod and Morten Qvenild have gone on to work separately since then, they're almost certainly at their best when united, and this album should be regarded as a return to form. A sterner palette of sounds governs the album, reaching into more pronouncedly electronic timbres than ever before, yet (no doubt thanks in part to that rich, gloomy Deathprod production work) the tone manages to avoid anything you could reasonably call electro-pop. Even through the blips and bloops of 'Palpatine's Dream' the sonic palette has more in common with Kate Bush than anything following the stylistic hallmarks of modern synthed-up fare. While Susanna's voice steals much of the limelight, great credit is due to the skillfully light touch of Qvenild, whose technique across various keyed instruments is detailed and delicate to the point where sometimes you barely notice he's there at all, but as the principal architect of this record's sound-world he's due no small amount of praise. All this good stuff comes to a peak during 'Subdivisions', which perhaps quite irritatingly (especially given the first half of this write-up) is not only one of the candidates for the album's best track, but also a cover - worse yet, it's a cover of a deeply unhip Rush song. Lodged towards the end of the record, this stands out not only by merit of its writing (props to Peart, Lee & Lifeson for that) but thanks to a dignified, irony-free re-arrangement. It's over the course of this song that you start to realise that these guys truly are very gifted in the art of reinterpretation, and maybe it was just bad luck that we ended up being exposed to their readings of songs like 'Hallelujah' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' at a time when everyone else was having a go. This understatedly anthemic cover, plus a host of strong, imaginative originals makes 3 a welcome return for one of Rune Grammofon's finest acts.