Deer Eyed Lady
A well-produced and dreamy sci-fi adventure with stronger arrangements than songs.
Many will associate Susanna and the Magical Orchestra with their serene cover versions. On 2006's Melody Mountain Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild lent their toned-down touch to big songs by Joy Division, Prince, Kiss and Bob Dylan. They chiselled away all familiar elements and ran the remaining core through their trademark filter of fragile and alternative jazz-pop. It wasn't necessarily a groundbreaking idea – Stina Nordenstram, SATMO's musical relative, tackled similar artists on a similar cover album eight years earlier – but the Norwegian duo succeeded in shedding elegant new light on established songs to widespread attention and acclaim.
Their aptly titled third release takes them back to the structure of their 2004 debut List of Lights and Buoys, with only two covers making it onto the disc. On Subdivisions, Rush's synth-prog observations of an excluding mass society ("Growing up it all seems so one-sided, opinions all provided...nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone") is intensely conveyed through sparsely ornamented synths and an intermittent bass drum sounding like heartbeats – easily the standout track on the album. The duo's melancholic take on Roy Harper's Another Day, however, is a feeble attempt when compared to Liz Fraser and This Mortal Coil's stunning string version from 1984.
As for the remaining tracks, there are plenty of good moments: Wallumrød duetting with her brother Fredrik, the Kate Bush Hounds of Love-influenced Recall, Guiding Star's gentle yet all-to-brief vocal ahs and synth crackle. Arrangements are richer this time around, and the jazz references on List of Lights and Buoys have been replaced by electronic 80s pop à la Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode. Lyrics, synth effects and vocoders all build up under 3's conceptual sci-fi theme, with magical orchestra Qvenild elegantly embroidering his synth melodies around Wallumrød's whispery alto vocals as she sings about loss, longing, stars and galaxies.
It may seem, however, that their history of successful interpretations is coming back to haunt them. Their carefully selected cover versions all share the basis of a strong song. And with the foundation for comparison in place, it becomes all too evident that the same can't be said for the duo's self-penned material – the main cause for turbulence on SATMO's otherwise effortless journey to space.