Sometimes the understated release can be the most pleasing. No fanfare, no lead up just a simple Bandcamp email dropping into my inbox announcing ‘Sj​ö​odjur’, a new single from one of my all-time favourite artists, Sumie.

Following a trend on her last three singles ‘Upp Ur M​ö​rkret’, ‘Dr​ö​mbrus’ and ‘H​ö​ga Torn’, ‘Sj​ö​odjur’ is sung in Swedish and through the imperfect medium of Google translate (the Swedish lyrics are available on the Bandcamp page) it seems that Sumie still uses words as allusion. Lyrically, nothing is ever too literal, but her words often have the feel of someone interpreting a dream.

Throughout all her releases, ‘Sj​ö​odjur’ being no exception, it is Sumie’s voice that holds me spellbound. In the ten years since her debut album some smokiness has crept into her singing and this gives a beautiful ‘life-lived-well’ patina to her voice. If you have not heard Sumie before then I envy you being able to go back over her body of work and hear it for the first time.

This single release has also given me the opportunity to revisit Sumie’s eponymous debut album which turned ten years old earlier this year having been released by Bella Union in February 2013.

I first heard the track ‘Show Talked Windows’ (video below) on a Spotify Discover Weekly playlist and it stopped me in my tracks. I got lost in it and ended up streaming the whole album while searching online for more information about Sumie. I nearly drowned in the album, listening to it at home, on the way to work, at work and on the way home. So, this part of the review is my testimony to what I consider to be a classic album.

Sumie by Sumie (the recording name of Sandra Nagano) is a near perfect as an album can be, even more amazing as it’s a debut album, having only been preceded by a collection of demos and a single. From the opening track ‘Spells You’ it’s hard to imagine that a voice as pure as this is real. The sheer breath-taking clarity of it is exquisite and when I first heard ‘Show Talked Windows’ part of the reason I kept replaying it was to make sure that I really was hearing it.

While this may not be a complicated album at face value it’s entrancing; intoxicating in its minimalism – mostly guitar and voice with very few embellishments. Sumie’s guitar playing uses simple but effective rotating phrases that form the foundation of the songs, but they are the crucible in which you add a touch of reverb, some gently ethereal harmonies and allow all all the elements to produce a rare metal. There are not many artists who can hold your attention with this little – Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, Agnes Obel to name a few – and though Sumie’s later releases such Lost in Light and the Mirou EP feature more instrumentation this debut album, 10 years on, still has the power to stop me in my tracks.

The album also holds a special place in my heart as it started my partner off travelling to see shows. From the first UK concerts we saw of hers at the Slaughtered Lamb (December 2013) and the Lakeside Theatre, Colchester and Lexington’s JaJaJa night in November 2014 we ended up travelling to Sweden for the first time in 2015 to see two concurrent shows at Dunkers Arts Centre in the coastal town of Helsingborg, and at the Stadsbiblioteket, Gothenburg the following night. We then saw her at the Sørveiv 2017 festival in Norway and made three return trips to see Gothenburg shows before COVID happened. It’s a testament to the power music has to exert a positive influence on your life beyond simply listening.

Sumie socials: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Review by Paul F Cook

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