In vinyl days, it was not unusual to switch between an album and a single on your turntable, forgetting to speed up the player. The result was to play music dramatically slowed down, usually creating a strange sound. Occasionally, though, you wouldn’t necessarily notice it was off, since the music sounded so good at a slow tempo. Norway’s Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, visiting Chicago on its first-ever tour of the States, sounds like a 78 RPM played at 33, so measured is the pace of the songs. And this is a good thing, if you’re wondering.
Susanna Karolina Wallumrød was born with tears in her voice. Her beautfully melancholy instrument fills the air in this ironically named ensemble of two; she’s accompanied by the acoustics provided by keyboard player Morten Qvenild. The vocals are pushed to the top, almost a cappella, resulting in a haunting, despair-laced effect, put especially to enchanting use in unexpected covers, such as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” or Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” both from 2006’s all-covers release, “Melody Mountain.” Trust me, though, you’ve never heard covers like this; a musician friend couldn’t even name familiar songs given the glacial tempo. The band’s latest release, “3,” moves on from familiar covers into a compelling assortment of originals, but retains the heartbreak.
It’s worth noting the difficulty in categorizing this music. Sure the rock covers and indie patina make it a natural for Schubas, but in some of its North American markets on this tour, they’re playing jazz festivals. Some things just can’t be filed away. (Brian Hieggelke)
June 20 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, 8pm. $10. Watch a live performance of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” below.