The Observer 18 July 2004
19/07/2004 :: (4 out of 5 stars)
As pop culture accelerates abreast with the pace of modern life, it's little wonder that many of us are left panting and drained by the whole experience. When even such low-temperature phenomena as 'chillout' or 'birds with acoustic guitars' smack of aggressively marketed utilitarianism, the hushed, guileless beauty of this debut is a rare treasure indeed. It's not a record to shout about from the rooftops, but one to leave quietly by a friend's stereo after they've gone on all night about stress and sleeplessness.
Susanna is Susanna Wallumrød (pronounced 'vallum-rur'), a 24-year-old chanteuse with a voice of mature, but softly understated beauty. The Magical Orchestra is one man, Morten Qvenild, a keyboard wizard formerly involved with nu-beats group Jaga Jazzist, who provides the sparsest backing, using programmed/ electronic gear (see Pole, Aphex Twin etc) and arcane instruments such as harmonium or autoharp. The results are at once rooted in the here and now and utterly ageless.
The album begins with two cover versions - Leonard Bernstein's 'Who Am I' and Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'. Frozen and desperate, their Jolene couldn't be less similar to the White Stripes' one. Though similarly icy and quiet, the nine subsequent self-compositions pack in an astonishing range of moods and sounds - from the sub-bass techno of 'Sweet Devil' to the twinkling 'Turn the Pages' and the heartbroken, piano-only 'Baby'. Throughout, Wallumrød's exquisite, oddly even voice takes your breath away - a presence as bewitching and unfathomable as any you'll encounter in 2004.