Henriette Sennenvaldt
Something Wonderful
Paper Bag Records

Henriette Sennenvaldt is, at least right now, better known as the co-founder of the experimental Danish band, Under Byen (which is Danish for Under the City).  They were an interesting group, taking on rock’n’roll, but without guitars, but, rather, cellos, violins, distorted saws, organs, and so on.  Sennenveldt, who handled vocals, was particularly curious, claiming to be influenced by traffic, and if their début album, Kyst, in 1999, she claimed that if it was influenced by anything, it was water and harbours.  Not your typical pop musician fare.  Under Byen put out another five albums after Kyst before calling it quits in 2013.

Something Wonderful is her début solo album. It was recorded between Chicago, Copenhagen, and London over the course of three years between 2016 and 2019.  And not surprisingly, it is not an easy album to pin down.  I hate to compare Sennenveldt to Björk, but she did reference her as a touchstone in the Under Byen days, and it is impossible not to note the Björkness of this album.  Sennenveldt, though, is a bit more disciplined than everyone’s favourite Icelander, at least musically.  I also hear echoes of Beth Gibbons’ Rustin Man project here.  I suppose one could say that the music is rooted in jazz, but that’s like saying Tom Waits is a jazz musician.

The first single, ‘Very Fantastic’ is a stunning little track.  Built up around her layered, half-whispered, muted vocals, we get a plodding piano line and a thick bassline.  It’s a slow burning track, one that requires a patient listen, though this is not background music.  This is music meant to be listened to late at night, preferably on headphones, as the song slowly builds into its third minute, before horns begin to make their presence known, down in the mix, but there nonetheless.  I love the way Sennenveldt describes where this one came from, as it was inspired by watching technicolour musicals, Bambi, and The Godfather as a kid, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.  She says,

I consider it both lament and ode, a burial procession. It’s sort of a field recording – reporting on bombasticness, and overwhelmedness, and claustrophobia. And – like many songs of this album – it’s also about light and luminosity, the shimmering of in-between, disintegration, melting, union.

The reeds that open the next track,’Choir,’ are joined by what sounds like glasses being struck, as we get Sennenveldt’s strangulated vocals in the background before she languorously begins to sing over a plodding bassline, her vocals sexy and playful.  The way in which Sennenveldt deploys her voice on this album is part of what draws you in, it is the starring attraction, of course. But her vocals are that, they are sexy and playful, they are mournful and sad, they are dusky, and provocative.

Lyrically, this is a grown-up album, and one befitting its sonic palette.  ‘Like Real Power’ is a standout track, as she sings of a failed relationship, as she considers power and the death of the love:

It’s terribly difficult
To take the lies
Simply as something impatient that hasn’t happened yet
As if we’re a work aching to be done
A wonderful work just aching to be done
And be done
Oh so interesting
To take the loss of face
Simply as having a face and seeing
We loved on purpose
With power like real power

I find myself listening to these lyrics over and over again, and pondering how relationships can end up like this, how the question of power works in relationships, both romantic and otherwise, and how power, or a belief in power, can lead to the dissolution of said relationships.  This is no doubt encouraged by the following track, ‘Clumsy,’ which continues the same theme.

Taken altogether, Something Wonderful is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, both for the musicality and for the fact that it refuses to sit in a genre, to sit still.  Just as her work with Under Byen was restless in spirit, so, too, is Sennenveldt’s début solo album.  And yet, this is the sound of an artist who knows who she is and where she is in life.