So much of the enjoyment of music is through context; there are times and places for different genres, artists and albums. The ten delicate, minimal folk songs that comprise Sumie’s self-titled debut LP are quintessential examples of music that needs a certain environment to flourish; the album is elegant and reflective but to have true resonance it must be allowed to surround its listener. The enjoyment is to be found in the delicacy and intimacy of this intriguing debut from the Gothenburg based artist.
The songs are crafted with the bare minimum of accompaniment for Sumie’s hypnotic, fragile vocal; there are only occasional moments when her acoustic guitar is supplemented by piano from producer Dustin O’Halloran (“Sailor Friends”), distant, ethereal backing vocals (“Show Talked Windows”), or the faintest arrangement of strings (“Midnight Glories”). It’s a sparse, unforgiving format; one that is often approached by only the most confident, literary artists and that demands a flawless vocal and genuine lyricism. For the most part, though, Sumie’s sincere songcraft and yearning delivery thrives in the exposure.
The lyrics appear deeply personal, rooted in an existential search for identity in life and love ‘I never wanted to be, a lover of someone’s light/I never wanted to be caught in a cage where my heart locked herself out’ Sumie calls on the melodic, magnetic chorus of “Never Wanted To Be” before “Let You Go” is a pleading, melancholic ode to the end of a relationship.
“Show Talked Windows” – released in advance of the LP and in conjunction with a video that aptly translates the song’s sense of presence onto screen as a spectral Sumie is shrouded in enveloping, creeping smog – is undoubtedly the album’s finest moment as the minimalist instrumentation combines with choral backing vocals and Sumie’s most poetic lyrics to create a marbled, hypnotic single.
There are interludes to the brilliance, though, as a listener’s attention is allowed to stray most notably on “Hunting Sky” and “Later Flights” as the acoustic guitar provides little shelter for less brilliant melodies and songwriting as these tracks are a little too frail to make an impact. Final track “Sailor Friends”, however, is a revival of the album’s hypnotic allure as layered vocals and a twinkling piano carry the LP to a fine ending.
Sumie is not a record for all times, but when the moment strikes, it will deliver – with disarming simplicity – an intoxicating mixture of purity and potency.