Since I first heard her eponymous album in 2013 Sumie has, according to my recent Spotify stats, been my artist of the decade. From her exquisite eponymous album in 2013 right up until this year’s 5-track EP Mirou, her music has been ever-present in my life and Mirou is my favourite release of 2019 serving as a perfect addendum to the glorious Lost in Light album of 2017. Mirou was a deeper dive into an ethereal world that she now seems to feel so comfortable in. I think a lot of this confidence has to do with old and new friends/collaborators that have supported her music and as Gothenburg is Sumie’s hometown some of those people are part of tonight’s show at Oceanen.
The first time I saw Sumie at The Slaughtered Lamb in Hoxton she was being backed by tonight’s support act Albert Af Ekenstam. A longtime friend and fellow local, Albert usually tours with a full band but tonight it’s a solo show of just guitar, pedals and his soulful voice. The set is transfixing; made more so by the respectful silence of the hometown crowd. Albert has a profound resonance to his voice and an unaffected way of stretching notes and allowing his voice to catch sometimes, adding an element of drama to his performance. The songs played at Oceanen were drawn from a number of releases including the Hundred Miles EP and Albert opened with its reflective and melancholy title track. This was followed by the doubled-up sadness of ‘Black Rain Falls’ (which features some superb sad humming) and from the 2016 album Ashes he played ‘The Devil Bird’, ‘Devil Liz’ and ‘The Avenue’ which seem to channel the rich desolation of Ian McCulloch’s voice on tracks like ‘Seven Seas’ or ‘Ocean Rain’. He also showcased a new track with the working title of ‘Sleep Like a Child’ which, like the whole set, was soporific and intoxicating and held the audience suspended in glowing amber. Such was the hypnotic effect of this set the audience was slow to applaud after each track as they needed time to shake off the spell of each song.
Playing to a hometown crowd allows Sumie to include more of the musicians that were involved in the making of her last two releases. Her regular collaborator, when they travel as a duo, is Karl Vento, a preternaturally talented guitarist who’s been adding widescreen shimmer to her sound since 2017. He subtly interlaced loops of guitar effects with slide work, chord patterns and lead whilst also playing bass pedals with his feet but none of this is self-serving, it’s always in support of the songs. He is joined for the whole set by Filip Leyman switching between the lush morning mist of his understated keyboard playing and a sparse but solid accompaniment on a pared down drum kit. Multi-instrumentalist Filip knows these songs well as he is also the gifted producer who worked on Lost in Light and Mirou (which I reviewed for Joyzine in September).
Tonight’s set drew tracks from all of Sumie’s Bella Union releases and opened with ‘Fortune’ from Lost in Light and ‘Lucky’ from Mirou, both of which share some 1950s DNA mixing tremolo with the tremulous and a slowly swaying introspection. ‘Show Talked Windows’ made a rare appearance in a live set and this prodigal song was invigorated by Karl and Filip. ‘The Only Lady’ and ‘Mirou’ marked the mid-point of the set where trumpet player Max Lindahl joined the band. Mostly a jazz player, tonight he showed what marks out a true musician by bringing nuance and subtlety to Sumie’s songs. He glided effortlessly around vocals, guitar and keyboard, weaving a golden thread through ‘Mountain’ and ‘Night Rain’ and in the final (official) song of the set, ‘Walk Away’, he gets to inhabit the end of the track and play with an unwavering clarity that is truly affecting. The silent thrall of this set is only broken by the audience’s demand for an encore and they get ‘Lake’, a pinhole camera of a song that opens its aperture to a glorious panorama representative of the “Lake of stars” referenced in the lyrics.
Sumie’s music is butterfly wing beautiful. Songs effervesce with allusions and have a kind of buoyancy that carries you along, free of gravity; the perfect soundtrack if you ever found yourself drifting through space. Music, at its best, can be transformative. It can fuel anger or bring serenity, help you wallow in your misery or pull you out of its quicksand and in the case of Sumie, her music not only affects me deeply but the thrill of seeing her live has inspired me to travel to such incredible destinations as Sweden, Norway and Essex. And long may it continue.
Review and photography by Paul F Cook