The idea of the solitary, single-minded, creative genius – an auteur – who makes great art by driving the processes from beginning to end, is one that holds great sway over the imagination in our culture but, like many things that take root in the collective consciousness, it is a myth that crumbles and collapses under scrutiny. Beyond the obvious, if often unstated, factors – talent, skill, learning, etc – that go into defining the quality of an artist’s work, the feedback and criticism received during the creative process also has a great impact on the final product, and often this can be the difference between an unfocused and unpolished work, and one that will stand the rigours of time and enter the cannon.
By deciding to self-produce her fifth solo album, Triangle, Norwegian vocalist and songwriter Susanna Wallumrød – or simply Susanna here – has attempted to claim a place in the mythos, and the power of story has also been employed to strengthen this claim. The story goes that while flying across the United States, Susanna was struck by inspiration – or “divine revelation” as the promotional material puts it – for what would become the 22 songs of Triangle. You read that correctly, 22 songs sprawling over 70 odd minutes. Now, I have no problem with long albums, concept albums, or experimentation, but Triangle feels like being shown the inspiration for the album but not the album itself.
For the most part Triangle is built around minimal arrangements, often focused on creating an undercurrent of dread or foreboding, and repeated vocal lines; opening song Holy/Sacred is as good an example as an of this, with synth used to build ominous tones while Susanna repeatedly imparts “nothing is holy/nothing is sacred”. Occasionally Susanna will take a foray into electro-pop, as on Hole, In The Need Of A Shepherd, and Sacred Revolution, but these are never especially satisfying. The compositions and instrumentation of This/Phenomena, with its heavily distorted vocals forming a tonal chant, and the opening sonic exploration of Burning Sea, are kind of interesting on an intellectual level, but not emotionally engaging.
Susanna has a pleasing and versatile voice, and she has plenty of accolades in her native Norway to attest to her skills as a songwriter and musician, so it is disappointing that Under Water and The Fire are the only two songs that standout on this collection. It is quite telling that these two songs feature a focus and purpose that is lacking on the other tracks. Had Susanna opted to work under a dedicated producer, or at least bring in a co-producer – someone to provide feedback during the writing and recording process, and say when the focus was drifting a little too far off point – instead of going it alone, it is likely that Triangle would have been a different album. It almost certainly would have been a better album for it.