Progressive pop. It isn’t necessarily a defined subgenre, but I make the rules on this website and so I freely use this term. What does it mean? It means ambitious, eclectic music that utilizes the pop genre as its foundation. Once again this year, we have another fine example of this in Susanne Sundfør’s emotional new album “Music for People in Trouble”, which releases on August 25th. Even for her, though, this album is quite different.
Susanne, like I said, is firmly in the pop genre when it comes to her melodies and style. Unlike typical pop, though, Susanne’s ambition and approach are quite varied and eclectic, meaning that she mixes styles, utilizes a wide variety of instruments, inserts beautifully inspired instrumental portions, and has a keen ear for more complex arrangements. Her music is definitely set apart from pop as we really know it nowadays.
Like I said, though, “Music for People in Trouble” is even quite a departure for Susanne. The album itself was inspired by her extensive global travels, which I suppose would change anyone. However, around the world, she noted the emotions caused by the tense, rapid changes that we are seeing in our world. This world is a turbulent place full of evil and greed, but also of love and progress. These emotions are apparent now more than ever, too, with our advanced means of sharing and communication. Susanne wanted to produce a personal, emotional album to capture these things, and I think she’s done a fantastic job.
Per the inspiration, this is obviously a very different album from her last outing, “Ten Love Songs”. While that album featured lots of high flying electronic beats, killer hooks, and lots of energy in order to portray the theme of love; “Music for People in Trouble” is more about personal, acoustic songs and delicate melodies to discuss a wider variety of feelings. There are almost no real beats or percussive instruments at all, and some of the songs feature nothing more than Susanne’s voice and an acoustic guitar, plus maybe a woodwind at the end. This album also features folksier and jazzier vibes, and also what I would describe as a mountainous, haunting tone on some of the songs. This album is truly a different beast.
Despite this difference in approach, Susanne has still crafted an album that comes across as exquisite, classy, and different than anything else out there. We are treated to a wide array of instruments and sounds, and I think the flute and sax are standouts especially. More than anything else, though, I think it is Susanne’s voice that makes the album what it is.
Susanne’s voice shines on this album. She sings no less from her heart, even with the lower energy on this album; and maybe even more so, honestly. You also will notice how technically sound her vocals are, probably because her vocals are front and center this time. In the past, I knew that she had range, especially high range, but on this album she showcases a lower, possibly more difficult range that really sounds great. When she contrasts the lows with the highs, the songs really take off! “The Sound of War” is a great example of how passionately she performs on this album, and “No one Believes in Love Anymore” is a great example of her technical proficiency.
Like her past albums, though, “Music for People in Trouble” is full of great, well-written songs. On the first play-through, I was a little taken aback with the more organic style, but since then each and every song seems to stand out more and more. My favorite track, for sure, is “The Sound of War”, which starts with a gentle rush of water, transitions into very fervent vocals, and ends up in the middle of an ominous drone that pierces through into a blurred yet beautiful veil of sound. It really is a journey.
Other favorites, though, include the heart-rending folk vibes of “Reincarnation”; the jazzy musing of “Good Luck Bad Luck”; and the celestial warmth of “The Golden Age”. “Undercover” is my second favorite on the album: Here Susanne’s voice reaches real heights, and even lows; and the hook is killer. Two more tracks deserve a little more wording, too. The first one is “No One Believes in Love Anymore”, which is a fantastic track of excellent vocals, beautiful flute, and a catchy vocal melody. This song really showcases not only Susanne’s range, but also her peaceful tone on this album, too.
The album ends with the single “Mountaineers”, which is a track that stands on the razor’s edge of tension, featuring haunting vocals from John Grant and hovering strings. The song explodes into radiance at the end to solidify the ending to the album, too. I see this final song as a celebration of humanity’s treacherous climb up the precipitous slopes of the mountain of life. We are all warriors on this path and you can really feel the nostalgia on this track.
Overall, “Music for People in Trouble” is a pensive and very personal album about humanity and our experience. The music reflects this very well and, while it isn’t going to be at your next dance party, it will be the album you want to hear with your headphones on and your heart wide open. Susanne has shown that she can produce a variety of music that still retains her unique signature and sound.