A Walk in the Woods Nearly Wasted
Norwegian songstress Susanna makes it a little too easy to agree with her lyrics on her laborious, lethargic but lovely collaboration with her country mates, contemporary music group Ensemble neoN, The Forester. It’s okay to write slow, sparse, emotional songs as long as it’s accepted that not everyone will have the level of patience to listen as the artists did to compose. While it’s clear that the talent is at a high level, The Forester warns us that “There’s no field of gold / Only the old field of mud.”
Indeed, that is the overall feel of the album. You’re searching, hoping to find something that shines, but instead you wind up sinking deeper into the mud. The title track, a three-part, fifteen-minute epic that opens the album, is executed artistically. Tip-toeing through a dark and damp forest is represented by single piano notes, and light strings represent real and imagined creatures that lurk within: fireflies and faeries, trees and trolls, all of which intrigue Susanna as she chants at hidden creatures to reveal themselves. It’s extremely effective, but it’s also extremely sloth-like and, depending on your taste, the reward may not be worth the effort. As an introduction to the album, one wonders if when Susanna asks “Who are you?” she’s referring to the chosen few who can stick with this album.
“Hang out with me,” she pleads in the next song, only to admit that “Oh, I Am Stuck” on the next. That track also appeared on her 2012 solo album, Wild Dog, but here Ensemble neoN provides a background of orchestrations that mimic the lyrics: hopeless but slightly playful. She complains of having sand in her eyes and chains on her feet, but the melody is sing-songy enough to suggest she is satisfied with her situation.
Album closer “Lonely Heart” was also on Wild Dog, but here the drums have been replaced with percussive strings and sharp woodwinds. Patience will reveal a gorgeous, classic-jazz refrain but again you have to be willing to get there. The Forester is a trek into dark woods; some will turn around and leave the way they came, but others will slog through, and if they keep their eyes and ears open– and don’t get eaten alive by bugs and thorns– will witness magnificence.