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On paper, Susanne Sundfør's Ten Love Songs is far from beguiling. Conceptually speaking, "love" isn't exactly a topic pop stars have shied away from, even in its most broken and perverse forms. With her subject matter stacked against her, Sundfør manages to craft a record that is musically captivating without being thematically original.
On 2012's The Silicone Veil, the Norwegian electro-pop powerhouse whittled away at genre expectations--using minor intervals (and her crystal-clear falsetto) to promptly sweep a predictable melody into ominous territory. This gloomy bent is further flexed on Ten Love Songs, with the first minute or so of 'Silencer' sounding conspicuously like a cut from Hail to the Thief. Given Sundfør's stratospheric vocal range and penchant for haunting electronic palettes, the Thom Yorke comparison practically draws itself.
However, the introspective opening track 'Darlings' doesn't exactly get things off to a promising start. Lyrically, Sundfør offers us a few breakup clichés (see: "we wanted to believe that love/could lift us to the skies and above" and "we thought love could change our names/and free us from earthly chains.") A languid synth-organ accompaniment doesn't do anything to lift the all-too-familiar feeling of despair.
Thankfully, the wallowing doesn't last long. 'Fade Away' is one of the most upbeat and radio-friendly things Sundfør has ever released, and it's palatable without being totally vapid. 'Kamikaze' finds her asking a few shallow questions--"Did you ever feel your heart broken/Did you ever feel it's the end of the world?"--but an infectious disco-tempo chorus marks a slight turnaround in the record's tone.
'Love songs' is ultimately a bit of a misnomer: Sundfør is really dealing in loss and lamentation here. 'Memorial', complete with its bombastic drums and lyrical melodrama, is basically a ballad pulled straight out of the '80s (only with an additional six minutes of orchestral instrumentals dispersed throughout).
There is no denying that Sundfør has mastered pop tropes and honed a flair for the dramatic, but the question remains: why has she failed to achieve stardom beyond her native Norway? The omnipresent darkness of The Silicone Veil doesn't lend itself to the kind of radio rotation that Lana Del Rey's self-indulgent sadness does. That being said, there is a real sonic frigidity that defines a lot of Sundfør's work; perhaps it's too aloof to be commercial, or too haunting to be consumed by a public hungry for major keys and tried-and-tested pop algorithms. Point is, there is newfound accessibility on Ten Love Songs which might just usher in international success for Sundfør.
Then again, the strange electro-rhythms of 'Insects' will totally alienate listeners hungry for a chorus to hum along to. Ten Love Songs is inconsistent--leaping from languorous tragedies, to marketable pop gems, to tracks defined by distant, space-age syncopation. The bag is mixed, and the lyrics often seem a bit familiar, but Sundfør's shadowy contributions to an often-tired genre are undoubtedly unique.
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