Susanna and Ensemble neoN | The Forester | Review
I have walked so far, so far...
I’ll concede, I suppose it’s easy to get a little jaded to old-hand refinement these days, what with the driving influx of fresh bubblegum content fit for chewing in three-minute stretches. For those artists—including our own Susanna and her most recent partner Ensemble neoN—who dive into deep cuts as a rule and not an exception, the present state of the union can be suffocating. Like an insistent bouncer at a low-rent exotic club, today’s audience is only asking one thing during the screening process—where’s the single? All others, hit the road.
Now, I’m sure there’s a band of loyalists reading this who’ll accuse me of such similar ignorant tyranny with what I’m about to say, but the simple fact of the matter is that Susanna’s Forester set indulges in its ethereal minimalism (nearly) to the point of excess. This isn’t a blanket rejection of what the Norwegian songstress is attempting here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t poke a couple holes in the holy zeppelin and let some air out.
The Forester drifts through the fog of haunting pastorals, low to the earth and rarely emerging from the periphery. The first two-thirds of the title track sequence are characteristic, showcasing avant-garde virtuosity in a distant display. Backing instrumentals tend toward subtle flurries and extended drones, while Susanna’s airy poetics more-than-intermittently take center stage with her echoing riffs and lyrical prowess.
And that’s where The Forester wears thin on me. It’s not for any lack of player ability—singer and company have that in spades and then some—but Susanna continually refuses to adhere to the adage of strength in omission—or, I guess what I’m trying to say is, when every whispering note lingers and echoes into the darkness with a heavy-handed sense of worth, do individual moments of otherwise-significance degrade to the point of tedious noise? Every track on the album is a cornerstone for a stone church the artists refuse to build—heavy and beautiful, exhausting to bear. The Forester is a short album, clocking in just under thirty-four minutes. And, for what it is, the record feels significantly longer—I won’t say that I ever found myself hoping the songs would dwell in place any more than they did.
Again, I promise I’m not casting the release off as an utter waste; there’s a sparse complexity to the soundscape that Ensemble neoN has created, and I respect the baroque nuances that tease Susanna’s lyrics along. Near the cycle’s completion, “The Forester” finds the perfect mix of simplicity, drone, and vocal insistence that I wish could have stayed with me longer. Further down the line, “Lonely Heart” offers an eclectic arrangement of life and fluttering minimalist musings that is, in its style, teetering on strange-flawless. There are moments of experimental clarity to be had here—for the patient.
Still, the circle winds ‘round back to where we began, as Susanna muses to her last quivering note beneath the cover of a string bass and a Beat flautist lost in a poppy field; meanwhile, we’re left lonesome to wonder which lines bear repeating down the road. And, honestly, all said and done, I’m not entirely convinced our particular folk-priestess visionary could even tell us what she sees on her canvas beyond the ink.